Specialised courts - Germany
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This section provides information on specialised courts in Germany.
Labour courts essentially handle labour law disputes arising from contractual relationships between employees and employers (individual labour law). They also handle collective agreement disputes, e.g. involving trade unions and employers’ associations (collective labour law), or between an employer and a works committee.
The courts of first instance are the labour courts (as courts of the Länder). The panel of the Labour Court is the Chamber. In principle, it decides with a professional judge as president and two honorary judges, one of whom will be employed by the employees and the other from the employers’ circles. Certain decisions that are not part of the oral proceedings are taken by the presiding judge without input from the lay judges.
‘Higher labour courts’ (Landesarbeitsgerichte, which are also courts of the Länder) are responsible for handling appeals and complaints against labour court judgments. These courts also comprise one professional judge and two lay judges (one from the employee’s area and the other from the employer’s area).
In the last instance, the Federal Labour Court ( Bundesarbeitsgericht), at federal level, takes the decision. The tribunal shall be composed of a chairman, two other professional judges and one honorary judge from the counties of the workers and the employers.
Three different branches of the courts are responsible for assessing administrative decisions: general administrative courts, social and financial jurisdiction. An important characteristic of the general administrative courts and the social and financial courts is that they apply the principle that it is the court’s duty to satisfy itself of the facts (Amtsermittlung). This official investigation principle justifies an obligation on the courts to investigate the facts ex officio (i.e. not only at the request of a party or on the basis of the evidence provided by the parties), since the material truth of the judicial decisions affects the public interest.
General administrative courts
General administrative courts have three levels of jurisdiction (instances).
- First instance: Administrative courts
- Second instance: The Supreme Administrative Courts (or administrative courts) of the individual Länder
- last instance: Federal Administrative Court.
In the first instance, the administrative courts are, in principle, competent. The higher administrative courts are primarily appeal tribunals, which examine the decisions of courts of first instance from a legal and factual point of view. With very few exceptions, the Federal Administrative Court is an appeal court that examines points of law only (‘Revision’).
The general administrative justice system is generally responsible for disputes between citizens and the administration about the correct application of administrative laws and administrative acts. Instead of the administrative courts, the ordinary courts are competent if the administration did not exercise public authority in the case but acted as a private company. This applies to all disputes arising out of this activity. In addition, all disputes are excluded from the general administrative justice system in respect of which a different court has jurisdiction by virtue of legislation (such as the Fiscal Court, the Social Court or the Ordinary Courts).
The judicial panels of the Administrative Courts are chambers, which are generally filled by three professional judges and two honorary judges. The Senate of the Higher Administrative Court normally consists of three professional judges. A Senate of the Federal Administrative Court is in principle filled by five professional judges. In the administrative courts, cases may be transferred to a single judge.
The social justice system is divided in exactly the same way as the general administrative justice system in three instances, with a corresponding division of labour. The social courts are, as a matter of principle, competent in first instance. Appeal courts are the 14 state social courts, the Bundessozialgericht (Federal Social Court), with a few exceptions, is a review court.
The courts of social justice are mainly competent to deal with disputes concerning social security (pensions, accident, sickness and long-term care insurance), unemployment insurance, basic insurance for jobseekers and social welfare (in particular social assistance, benefits under the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act, certain matters of disability law). The chambers, as panels of the social courts, are staffed by a professional judge and two honorary judges. The Senate acts as formation of the Higher Social Court and the Bundessozialgericht with three professional judges and two honorary judges.
In the financial jurisdiction, there is the financial courts of first instance and the Federal Finance Court, which acts as an appeal court. The jurisdiction of the financial courts mainly covers disputes on public levies, taxes and customs. The panels of the Fiscal Court shall consist of three professional judges and two honorary judges. The senate of the Federal Finance Court is composed, in principle, of five professional judges. In financial courts of first instance cases can also be referred to an individual judge.
Other specialised courts
Federal Constitutional Court
The Federal Constitutional Court ensures compliance with the Fundamental Law at federal level. Its decisions are based on the constitutional law (Grundgesetz). By far the largest number of proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court are constitutional complaints. These are lodged by citizens claiming that a judgment, government action or legislative act violates their fundamental rights. A constitutional complaint is normally admissible only if all other competent courts have been unsuccessfully appealed, that is to say against decisions of the last resort. Only in exceptional circumstances can the constitutional complaint be directly brought against a law.
There are several other types of proceedings. These include, in particular, the abstract or substantive judicial review of the constitutionality of laws, and procedures to verify whether constitutional institutions have acted outside their area of competence. Certain decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court can have the force of law. The court consists of two divisions (Senate), composed in each case of eight judges. The Court of First Instance shall take a decision in chambers consisting of three judges each or in the Senate; in most cases without a hearing.
Regional constitutional courts (Landesverfassungsgerichte/Staatsgerichtshöfe)
‘Regional constitutional courts’ are constitutional courts of the respective Länder. They mainly settle constitutional disputes regarding Land law (Landesrecht), which also governs their practical composition, administrative procedures and scope of competence.
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Last update: 16/09/2019