General aspects of the German law system

The German law system distinguishes between ordinary jurisdiction and special jurisdiction. Ordinary jurisdiction comprises civil law and criminal law.

Civil law mainly deals with family, law of succession, monetary and tenants law. These cases are tried at the local courts, regional courts or the higher regional courts respectively. Here, judgements are given, whereas under criminal law, the aim is to punish the offender. The cases dealt with under criminal law range from summary proceedings concerning administrative penalties to homicide cases, i.e. offences violating laws.

If the civil case that is to be negotiated has a value in dispute of up to 5000 Euros, it will be dealt with at a local court. This also goes for cases involving housing (regardless of the value in dispute) as well as execution proceedings in the first instance (regardless of the value in dispute).

At local courts, the defendant can represent him or herself whereas at regional courts, representation by a lawyer is mandatory. Labour courts, social courts, administrative courts and finance courts fall under special jurisdiction meaning there is no differentiation of local, regional or higher regional courts.

Unless otherwise stated, the place of jurisdiction is where the defendant resides. In a dispute on labour issues, the place of jurisdiction is the location of the labour, i.e. it is not necessarily at the company's headquarters. The place of jurisdiction for cases involving tenancy matters is where the rented property is located.

More aspects

  • It is wise to have a German defence counsel should the charges be disputable.
  • If you don't appear in court as required, you might be punished. Initially, this will be a fine. However, if you fail to pay this, you will be sentenced to prison!
  • Trials are open to the public unless explicitly excluded or if minors are involved.
  • A suspect in Germany has the right to remain silent. Under German law, the suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
  • For many crimes, a probation period of two to five years is often imposed on first offenders. However, depending on the crime, prison sentences can range from one month to life.
  • Blood samples may be taken if the alleged offence is related to drugs or alcohol.
  • Drug offences, such as importation, sale or possession or narcotics including marijuana, are considered serious crimes.
  • There are very strict regulations with regard to weapons.
  • Anything you sell as a private person automatically carries a six-month warranty under law unless explicitly excluded (relevant e.g. for ebay sales).
  • Under German law you can't file for divorce until having been separated for at least 1 year, unless there is a case of hardship.
  • Fines can be levied for violations of traffic, environmental, consumer protection and unfair competition laws.
  • Contracts in Germany might be relatively short and concise as a wealth of possible events is covered in laws.
  • Codes of law in Germany are, among others, the BGB = Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (Civil Code), the HGB = Handelsgesetzbuch (Commercial Code), the SGB = Sozialgesetzbuch (Social Code) and the StGB = Strafgesetzbuch (Criminal Code).
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