Introduction into the German law system - Sources of German law

The basis of all sources of law is the German constitution , the Basic Law. The structure of the German court system – stages of appeal, competences of courts, personnel of courts – is regulated by the Law on the Constitution of Courts (Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz, GVG) for all branches of law.

The most important sources of civil law are the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, BGB) from 1900 and the Civil Procedure Act (Zivilprozessordnung, ZPO). Sections like rental law or the law of succession can be found completely in the BGB; in further cases there are additional law codes. For example, the BGB comprises fundamental rules for contracts of employment while supplementary codes of labour law are the Protection Against Dismissal Act (Kündigungsschutzgesetz, KSchG - describing protective measures against termination of an employment contract) and the Employee’s Representation Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz, BetrVG - regulating employee participation in decisions).

The trade law can be found in the Commercial Code (Handelsgesetzbuch, HGB), laws concerning shares and shareholding in the Stock Code (Aktiengesetz, AktG).

Federal administrative law is determined by the Administrative Courts Act (Verwaltungsgerichtsordnung, VwGO) and the Administrative Procedure Act (Verwaltungsverfahrensgesetz, VwVfG). The VwGO regulates different kinds of legal actions by which the citizens can defend themselves against both administrative action and –inactivity. - Examples for important laws of the federal states are the laws covering the rules for the civil servants and duties and organisation of the police of the states.

Sources of the criminal law are the Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch, StGB) and the Criminal Procedure Act (Strafprozessordnung, StPO). There are no regulations of the individual states in this branch of law, but on the level of the executive, different interpretations of some national laws may occur in the states – e.g. about which amount of cannabis is considered insignificant and which a person therefore may carry without being punished for ownership of illegal drugs.

Infringements of the public order, e.g. of the Road Traffic Regulations (Straßenverkehrsordnung, StVO) are punished in accordance with the Lesser Offences Act (Ordnungswidrigkeitengesetz, OWiG). This law is in force nationwide. For punishments it allows fines between 5 and 1000 Euro.

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