Introduction into the German law system - Sections of law

The German law system is divided into the sections of private or civil law, public law and criminal law.

Private law and civil law are synonymous terms. This area deals with relations of equal subjects, i.e. natural or legal persons. German civil law is codified in the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, BGB) and in some special law codes. The BGB is subdivided into a Book of General Provisions, the law of obligations, the law of property, the law of the family and the law of succession. Trade law and corporate law (codified in the Commercial Code (Handelsgesetzbuch, HGB), labour legislation and rental law (codified in the BGB) are also part of civil law.

Public law includes constitutional law and administrative law. Administrative law is the law of the executive. It covers federal regulations about the enactment of a formal administrative action and possible legal actions against it. In case of administrative inactivity the authority can be sentenced to act by a court for administrative affairs.

Administrative law covers – partly by laws of the federal states – a multitude of special sections, e.g. police, construction and building, environmental protection, social affairs and taxes.

National criminal law defines the criminal offences and names the corresponding punishments. The Book of General Provisions of the Criminal Code (Allgemeiner Teil des Strafgesetzbuches, StGB) makes a difference between a misdemeanour (Vergehen) and a crime (Verbrechen). The section of specific offences of the Criminal Code describes the different criminal offences and names the exact presumptions under which these are punishable.

Each of the sections of law mentioned above has its own rules of court procedure described in individual procedural codes.

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