The Federal Administrative Court - or "Bundesverwaltungsgericht" - was established in 1953 as supreme instance of the general administrative jurisdiction. It is one of Germany's six Federal Courts.
Unlike most other countries, Germany has five different branches of jurisdiction which act completely independent of each other. Besides the general administrative courts there are:
- courts commonly known as "ordinary courts" comprising civil and criminal jurisdiction
- the labour courts
- the fiscal courts
- the social courts
Each branch has its own Federal Court as supreme instance. Furthermore, there is the Federal Constitutional Court which adjudicates upon constitutional issues and the validity of parliamentary laws only.
I. Jurisdiction of the Federal Administrative Court
The general administrative jurisdiction forms the largest system of specialised courts in Germany. It is competent for all kinds of non-constitutional public law matters, unless the respective matter is explicitly assigned by statute to the fiscal or social courts. Typical examples of actions brought before the general administrative courts are disputes arising from laws relating to public order and security, assemblies, foreign nationals and asylum, building, traffic, trade and industry, municipal revenue and municipal administrative organisation, subsidies, access to public institutions and public welfare, education, protection of the environment, nuisance caused by public facilities, project planning and civil service matters.
2) Position within the German Judiciary
The administrative courts are an integral part of the German judiciary. They have no advisory functions and are strictly independent from any executive branch of the government.
In the vast majority of cases, administrative courts grant judicial protection in disputes between a citizen and a public authority. However, they are also competent for actions brought by one legal entity (for example a municipality or one of the German constituent states) against another such entity.
II. Historical Development
German administrative jurisdiction in its modern form emerged in the second half of the 19th century.
The first independent Higher Administrative Court was created in Baden in 1864. The first administrative jurisdiction with a three-levelled hierarchy (consisting of partly independent committees on county and regional level and a fully independent Supreme Court) was established in Prussia between 1872 and 1875. Until 1924 administrative courts were established in all of the German states. However, a common supreme instance at the empire level comparable to the Federal Administrative Court did not exist.
2) The Third Reich
Things changed completely during the Third Reich. Under the regime of Adolf Hitler and his national-socialist party the federal system was terminated and a unitary state established. The lawsuits before the lower administrative courts were replaced by complaints before regional administrative panels. Naturally, these panels were totally dependent on the national-socialist policy and far from providing effective legal protection. The jurisdiction of some of the Higher Administrative Courts was merged in the so-called "Administrative Court of the German Empire" which de facto was not an independent court either. Therefore both, panels and Court, were decommissioned after the German surrender in May 1945.
3) Post-War Development
In the wake of the Second World War the federal system was restored - at least in the western part of Germany - and along with it the system of independent administrative courts. This time, however, the new German Constitution provided for the creation of a common supreme instance at the Federal level.
The "Bundesverwaltungsgericht" - came into existence on 8. June 1953 and took its legal seat in West-Berlin.
4) German Re-Unification
After the German re-unification in 1990 the judicial system of West-Germany was extended to the territories of the former GDR as well. In 2002 the Federal Administrative Court moved to Leipzig, the Saxonian city where in 1989 the resistance movement against the socialist regime was strongly supported.
III. The Courthouse
Since 2002 the Court resides in Leipzig in a neo-renaissance courthouse which is today - after complete restoration - the most impressive and most beautiful court-house in Germany.
1) Original Function of the Courthouse
The building was erected between 1888 and 1895 by the architect Ludwig Hoffmann. Originally, it housed the High Court of the German Empire ("Reichsgericht") which was the supreme instance in civil and criminal law matters of the German Empire of 1871.
After the end of World War II, however, Leipzig became part of the GDR and the High Court was moved to the western part of Germany. During the years of the socialist regime the courthouse accommodated various non-judicial institutions, two museums and a dubbing studio.
2) Renovation and Restoration
After the German re-unification the entire building has been renovated and many of the historic rooms have been restored. A particular highlight is the "Great Courtroom" with windows of stained glass and gilt carvings on plankings and ceiling showing the crests of the constituent states of the German Empire.
Moreover, the Court has its own historic ballroom with beautiful frescos and paintings and a dining room with a marvellous carved ceiling (for a virtual tour through the courthouse follow this link).
The entrance hall and the "Great Courtroom" are open to visitors on weekdays during the regular office hours of the Court. Guided tours to the other historic rooms have to be booked in advance (for details see X. below).
IV. Organisation and Structure of the German Administrative Jurisdiction
1) The Hierarchy of the Administrative Courts
The present system of administrative jurisdiction in Germany is three-levelled, with 52 administrative tribunals of first instance at the bottom, 15 High Administrative Courts in the middle and the Federal Administrative Court at the top of the hierarchy. At present the administrative jurisdiction comprises approximately 2.400 judges.
The tribunals of first instance and the High Administrative Courts are financed, administered and staffed by the constituent state to which they belong. Every state maintains one High Court. The number of tribunals of first instance varies according to the size of the respective state.
The Federal Administrative Court is financed and equipped by the Federation.
2) Courts of First and Second Instance
A lawsuit normally starts in the administrative tribunals of first instance, unless the respective legal matter is assigned by law to the High Administrative Courts or to the Federal Administrative Court.
The High Administrative Courts are mainly courts of appeal. They re-examine decisions of the tribunals of first instance as to the facts and to the law.
3) The Federal Administrative Court
In contrast to that, the Federal Administrative Court reviews the decisions of the lower courts only on points of law. The respective proceedings are called "revisions". Generally, the actions brought before the Federal Administrative Court are directed against decisions of the courts of appeal. With the consent of both parties, however, it is also admissible to bypass the remedy of appeal and to challenge the ruling of a tribunal of first instance directly before the Supreme Court.
As an exception to that the Court acts as court of appeal in military disciplinary matters and as court of first and last instance in some exceptional cases, among which are the development of the infrastructure within the territories of the former GDR, all non-constitutional litigation between the constituent states and the Federation and actions concerning the Federal Intelligence Service.
Appeals and "revisions" are only admissible with the leave of the court which has given the contested ruling or - on special request - with the leave of the competent superior court itself. Appeals may be based on the laws of the Federation, as well as on the laws of the constituent state to which the respective High Court belongs. "Revisions" can be supported only by claims of breaches of Federal law.
V. Internal Organisation of the Federal Administrative Court
1) The "Senates"
The Federal Administrative Court works in panels, the so-called "Senates". The number of senates is not fixed by law but depends on the workload of the Court. Presently, the Court consists of ten senates of general review, two senates specialising in disciplinary matters of the armed forces and one senate adjudicating on disciplinary matters of the federal civil service.
The senates of review sit with five professional judges (one presiding judge and four associate judges). The disciplinary senates comprise three professional judges and two lay judges (civil servants or members of the army).
If two senates differ in their view on a specific point of law the matter is settled by the so-called "Great Senate" ("Großer Senat").
Currently, there are 54 judges at the Court. The number of lady judges is comparatively low - at present there are only twelve - but it is steadily increasing.
2) The Service Units
Moreover, the Federal Administrative Court maintains an office consisting of administrative and clerical staff and an extensive library. Presently, there are five service units, each assisting two or three senates. Court clerks with a special educational background exercise those judicial functions which are not assigned exclusively to the judges themselves. Apart from that, each senate has a research assistant - mostly a professional judge of first instance - who does the legal research in extensive or complicated cases.
VI. Recruitment Procedures and Incompatibilities
1) Election Procedure
The judges of the Federal Administrative Court are selected by an electoral committee consisting of the Ministers of Justice of the 16 German states and the same number of members appointed by the Federal Parliament. In order to qualify for the election the candidates need two law exams. Special expertise in the field of administrative law is not a compulsory prerequisite; however most of the candidates have already worked in administrative courts or public authorities before. The minimum-age is 35 years. During the election the Presidential Council which represents the interests of the Court gives its opinion on the candidates as well. After the committee has taken its decision, the judges are appointed by the Federal President.
German judges are appointed on a full time basis and for life in established positions. They cannot be dismissed, suspended, transferred or retired against their will before the expiration of their term of office.
All judges are independent and only subject to the law. Their office is incompatible with any executive or parliamentary functions.
VII. The German Administrative Court Procedure
The procedure before the administrative courts is governed by the constitutional guarantee of complete and effective judicial protection.
1) Inquisitorial Procedure
It is inquisitorial which means that administrative courts are obliged to investigate the truth without being bound by the evidence presented by the parties. However - unlike in criminal law - the procedure is always at the disposal of the litigants. The court is prohibited from going beyond the prayers of the plaintiff and the petitioner has the right to terminate proceedings by amicable settlement or withdrawal of his action at any time.
2) Oral, Direct and Open Procedure
Moreover, the procedure is oral, direct and open. In regular cases the court is always obliged to conduct an oral hearing which is open to the public. During the hearing the parties have full opportunity to make their presentations and to discuss the factual and legal points with the panel. All evidence is produced - or at least reproduced -, recorded and discussed during the oral proceedings as well.
3) Free Evaluation of Evidence
And, finally, the procedure is based on the principle of free evaluation of evidence. The court decides according to its free conviction formed from the overall result of the proceedings. There are no statutory rules which give superiority to one kind of evidence over the other.
VIII. Admissibility and Kinds of Actions
1) Filing of an Action
The procedure in German administrative courts starts with the filing of an action. In the courts of first instance no specific form of action is prescribed. Any person can file an action personally on an ordinary piece of paper or get it recorded with the help of a court clerk. In the Higher Administrative Courts and before the Federal Administrative Court however, the parties need to be represented by a professional attorney or a university professor of law.
An "actio popularis" or an action to enforce rights of third parties is not permissible before German administrative courts. The petitioner must always establish that his individual rights have been infringed. The only exception are actions brought by approved unions for environment protection in order to contest building projects or decisions concerning nature protection areas ("Verbandsklage").
3) Kinds of Actions
The decision of the Court depends on the kind of action brought by the claimant. Basically, five kinds of actions can be distinguished in German administrative law:
- rescissory actions (directed at the annulment of an administrative act)
- actions for annulment of a non-parliamentary law
- actions for mandatory injunctions (directed at the issuance of an administrative act)
- declaratory actions establishing the existence or non-existence of a particular legal relationship
- general actions for performance (instructing public authorities to perform an activity other than an administrative act in the strict sense)
4) Suspensive Effect and Interim Relief
Apart from these regular actions the Administrative Court Act provides for interlocutory injunctions and interim relief in order to guarantee the effectiveness of judicial protection in urgent cases.
Actions brought before an administrative court have suspensive effect unless the contested administrative act has been declared provisionally enforceable by the issuing public authority. In the latter case the suspensive effect may be restored by way of interim relief.
IX. Decisions of the Federal Administrative Court
Judgments of the Federal Administrative Court are always final between the parties since there is no further legal remedy against them. The finality of the judgment operates against any proceedings concerning the respective subject-matter, even in other branches of the judiciary.
Judgments of the lower courts become final between the parties once all legal remedy against them has been exhausted or is not availed of within the time-limit prescribed by law.
Decisions of the Federal Administrative Court can be found in the following publications:
- Entscheidungen des Bundesverwaltungsgerichts (Official Collection of the Court's decisions)
- Buchholz, Sammel- und Nachschlagewerk der Rechtsprechung des Bundesverwaltungsgerichts (Buchholz' Reports on the Case-law of the Federal Administrative Court)
Recent decisions are also published by about 200 specialised legal periodicals and on the Court's website.
X. Guided Tours
The entrance hall and the historic "Great Courtroom" are open to visitors Monday to Friday between 8.00 am and 4.00 pm without prior registration. The entrance is free of charge.
Guided tours of the Court (including the historic dining and ballroom of the Empire era) have to be booked in advance by letter, fax or via the registration form on the Court's website. They may be organised on weekdays after 4.00 pm and on Saturdays after 9.00 am.
For groups of 10 or more persons the participation fees are 3,50 € for adults and 2,00 € for children/students. Groups of less than 10 persons pay a flat fee of 35 €.
Postfach 10 08 54
Phone number: 0049 - (0)341 - 2007 - 0
Fax: 0049 - (0)341 - 2007 - 1000