The System of German Civil Law
German law is a traditional civil law system based on Roman law principles (more precisely on the eastern roman emperor Justinian’s Code) and also heavily influenced by the Napoleonic Code. In modern times, obviously, European Union law has modified German civil law, especially in the areas of contract law, business law and consumer rights. In contrast to the common law systems of Anglo-American jurisdictions, the German law system is based on a comprehensive compendium of statutes, i.e. thousands of laws (Gesetze) and regulations (Verordnungen). We explain the German statutes most relevant for German civil litigation in this post.
German Judicial System
While, strictly speaking, German judges are not bound by the judgments of other courts (precedent), not even by the rulings of the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), i.e. Germany’s Federal Court of Justice, the judgements by the German higher courts (Oberlandesgerichte and BGH) are usually being followed by German judges in the lower courts. Thus, where the facts of a case are similar to a case which was already decided by an Oberlandesgericht or even the Bundesgerichtshof, a court will usually not depart from the view of the OLG or BGH. This chart shows how the German civil courts are structured and how many judges hear a German civil lawsuit:
More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:
- Making a Court Claim for Money in Germany: It’s actually quite easy
- Standard of Proof in German Civil Litigation
- German Litigation Experts explain Civil Procedure Rules
- A German Claimant can’t be his own Witness
- Compensation for a wrecked Car under the German Law of Torts
- Does German Law of Torts know the Egg Shell Skull Rule?
- How expensive is a German Lawsuit?
- Expert Reports on German Law
For legal advice on German civil procedure and how to successfully litigate in Germany, contact the international litigation experts and trial lawyers of GrafLegal.
Copyright & Disclaimer All posts are copyrighted material. This blog is made available by Graf & Partners for educational purposes as well as to give you general information on German law, not to provide specific legal advice. Simply reading this blog does, of course, not result in any attorney client relationship between you and Graf & Partners. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice provided by a licensed professional attorney in a specific legal matter.
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At which Court to file a civil or commercial lawsuit in Germany
In case you need to litigate in Germany, one of the first tasks is to know your way around German Civil Courts (ordentliche Gerichte). The below chart shows you at one glance which is the correct civil court for your claim against a German defendant, how many judges will hear your case and what your options for appeal are should you lose the lawsuit.
Finding the right German court or tribunal for your specific legal matter is tricky, because Germany has installed various specialised courts for certain areas of law, inter alia:
- Arbeitsgerichte (Labour Courts), dealing with all employment related disputes in Germany (more on the official website of the German Federal Labor Court);
- Verwaltungsgerichte (Administrative Courts), having jurisdiction over matters of public and administrative law like construction permits, planning permissions, municipal law etc. (more on the official website of the German Federal Administrative Court); and
- Finanzgerichte (Fiscal Courts), the courts deciding on German tax issues, in particular on objections by citizens against German tax bills issued by the Finanzamt (German tax office); more on the official website of the Federal Fiscal Court of Germany.
Chances are, however, that your case will not be heard by any of the specialized German courts listed above, because you will most likely want to make a civil or commercial claim against a German defendant. Or you may be involved in German probate matters (be it a contentious probate case or merely an application for a German grant) or a German family law case (divorce, child custody, alimony or child support etc).
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