Introduction into the German law system - Jurisdiction

Basis of the German legal system is the codification of laws – as complete as possible. Decisions of courts are not legally binding for later cases in similar matters. Lower courts may decide contradictorily in cases which are similar to each other. Decisions of the high courts of the states (Oberlandesgerichte, OLG) or the Supreme Federal Court (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) are nevertheless understood as a signal for lower courts.

Each one of the three great branches of law has its own separate courts. Some subordinated areas of the main branches have their own courts and stages of appeal, because they require special knowledge. Concerning the civil law, examples are labour law, family law and guardianship law. The lowest court in the civil law is the local court (Amtsgericht, AG). Next stage is the Landgericht (LG). Above it follows the state‘s high court, the Oberlandesgericht, OLG). In some federal states – like Bavaria – there exist “highest high courts“ (Oberste Landesgerichte, ObLG) above the level of the OLG. Highest court is the Supreme Federal Court (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) situated in Karlsruhe. In the area of labour law (also belonging to civil law), corresponding levels of courts exist, starting with the local labour courts and leading up to the Federal Labour Court.

In the branch of criminal law there are also corresponding court levels. The lowest court is the local court, the last is the Supreme Federal Court. Juvenile courts deal with cases concerning young lawbreakers.

In public law the lowest court is the local administrative court (Verwaltungsgericht, VG). The next stage is the high administrative court (Oberverwaltungsgericht, OVG), followed by the F ederal Administrative Court (Bundesverwaltungsgericht, BVerwG). The first measure against an administrative action is the formal objection against it. It must be addressed to the authority from which the administrative action originates. After its formal rejection (raised by an authority of a higher level) the addressee may sue a legal action against the original administrative decision.

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