Federal Court of Justice of Germany

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The Federal Court of Justice of Germany (German: Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) in Karlsruhe is the highest court in the system of ordinary jurisdiction (ordentliche Gerichtsbarkeit) in Germany. It is the supreme court (court of last resort) in all matters of criminal and private law. A decision handed down by the BGH can be reversed only by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany in rare cases when the Constitutional Court rules on constitutionality (compatibility with the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany).


Before the Federal Court of Justice of Germany was created in its present form, Germany has had several prior highest courts:

As early as 1495 there was the so-called Reichskammergericht, which existed until 1806. As from 1870, in the time of the North German Confederation, there was the Bundesoberhandelsgericht in Leipzig. Later, in 1871, it was renamed to Reichsoberhandelsgericht and its area of responsibility was amplified as well.[1] This court was unsoldered by the Reichsgericht at October 1, 1879, which was also in Leipzig.[2] On 1 October 1950, five years after the German Reich had collapsed, the Bundesgerichtshof —as it exists nowadays— was founded.[3]

Together with the Federal Administrative Court of Germany, the Federal Finance Court of Germany, the Federal Labor Court of Germany and the Federal Social Court of Germany, the Federal Court of Justice is one of the highest courts of Germany today, located in Karlsruhe and Leipzig.[4]

Organisation and functions

File:BGH - Palais 2.JPG
Seat of the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe

In order to fulfill its functions, which are explained below, the Federal Court of Justice of Germany is subdivided in twenty-five senates:

Twelve of them are the civil panels (Zivilsenate), five additional ones are the criminal panels (Strafsenate) and the eight remaining ones are special panels.[5]

The general function of the Federal Court of Justice is to save the uniformity of the jurisdiction on the one side, and to do law-development on the other side. So usually it just reconsiders the legal assessment of a case as a court of last resort.[6] To that effect the following legal-sections can be differentiated in the area of responsibility of the Federal Court of Justice:

In the civil law it takes action by reconsidering decrees of the regional courts (Landgericht) and of the regional appeal courts (Oberlandesgericht). In some special cases they also reconsider first-instance decrees of the local courts (Amtsgericht) and the regional courts. Here it can decide that an application for revision is improper —then the application gets discarded— or that it is valid – then it has to decide about the case.[7]

In the criminal law it has to decide about applications for revision against first-instance decrees of the regional courts (e. g. Murder-delicts) and of the regional appeal courts (for example in state security delicts). Here it has to decide whether an application is blatantly reasonless or whether it is blatantly reasonable in support of the defendant. In both of these cases it can decide without a main trial. In any other case, it has to decide about the legal remedy after a main trial.[8]

Finally it decides about the so-called “Vorlagesachen” (approximately: submission cases): If a regional appeal court plans to differ from a decision of another regional appeal court or from one of the Federal Court of Justice, it has to inform the Federal Court of Justice about that, which has to decide finally about this case. This is to save the homogeneity of the jurisdiction.[9]

Since 2000, the judgments of the Federal Court of Justice have been published on the official court website.[10]


Judges of the Federal Court of Justice are selected by an electoral committee, which consists of the Secretaries of Justice of the 16 German Bundesländer and of 16 representatives appointed by the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag). Once a judge has been chosen by this committee, he or she is appointed by the President of Germany. Only individuals who possess German citizenship within the meaning of Art. 116 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, who are formally qualified to serve as a judge in accordance with § 9 DRiG and are at minimum 35 years of age can be appointed as a Judge at the Federal Court of Justice.[11]



name took office left office
1 Hermann Weinkauff (1894–1981) 1 October 1950 31 March 1960
2 Bruno Heusinger (1900–1987) 1 April 1960 31 March 1968
3 Robert Fischer (1911–1983) 1. April 1968 30. September 1977
4 Gerd Pfeiffer (1919–2007) 1 October 1977 31 December 1987
5 Walter Odersky (b. 1931) 1 January 1988 31 July 1996
6 Karlmann Geiß (b. 1935) 1 August 1996 31 May 2000
7 Günter Hirsch (b. 1943) 15 July 2000 31 January 2008
8 Klaus Tolksdorf (b. 1948) 1 February 2008 31 January 2014
9 Bettina Limperg (b. 1960) 1 July 2014

Vice Presidents[citation needed]

Presiding Judges[citation needed]

Judges[citation needed]

Attorneys admitted at the Federal Court of Justice

In all civil cases heard by the Federal Court of Justice, the parties need to be represented by an attorney who has been specifically admitted to the Bar at the Federal Court of Justice (Rechtsanwalt beim Bundesgerichtshof). This admission is the only 'special' admission within the German court system, in that an attorney at the Federal Court of Justice for civil cases cannot appear in any other court in the country. Admission at the Bundesgerichtshof is highly selective; as of May 2015 there are only 46 attorneys so admitted.[13] Candidates for admission are nominated by an electoral committee and are then chosen and appointed by the Federal Ministry of Justice.

The requirement for a representative specifically admitted to the Federal Court of Justice does not apply in criminal cases. Here, representation by any lawyer admitted to the Bar in Germany suffices.[citation needed]


Further reading

  • Brockhaus in drei Bänden (in Deutsch). 2006. p. 839. ISBN 978-3-7653-1514-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Meyers Großes Taschenlexikon in 24 Bänden (in Deutsch). 2006. p. 1038. ISBN 978-3-411-10063-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "The Federal Court of Justice" (PDF). Karlsruhe, Leipzig: Federal Court of Justice of Germany. 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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