Public authorities issue permits for wind turbines, regulate highway routes and the operation of airports, grant student assistance, decide about the right of foreign nationals to stay in Germany, and changes in the cost of postage.
The Federal Administrative Court – legal protection for citizens
Administrative courts review actions of public authorities as to their lawfulness and protect the rights of citizens. The Federal Administrative Court is the highest federal court for administrative matters. It was established in West Berlin by law of 23 September 1952 while the German Democratic Republic lacked such a court. Leipzig has been the seat of the Federal Administrative Court since 2002.
The administrative court system is organised in three levels. The administrative courts are generally the courts of first instance. The higher administrative courts of the German federal states serve as appellate courts.
The Federal Administrative Court acts as an appellate court dealing exclusively with questions of law. It does not take evidence or examine facts, but ensures that federal law is applied correctly and uniformly. To this end, it reviews the legal opinion of the lower courts and confirms or rejects it.
Appeals on points of law are not always available. They require admission; this is so that the Federal Administrative Court is allowed to focus on legal questions of fundamental significance. An appeal on points of law may already be allowed by the higher administrative court. If it refuses to allow such an appeal, the Federal Administrative Court may admit the appeal on points of law upon the complaint of a party to the proceedings.
In addition to its function as the appellate court for points of law, the Federal Administrative Court is also the first and simultaneously the last instance for certain cases. In these cases, it will also ascertain the facts. This is the case for important infrastructure projects, such as the construction of certain motorways.
The Federal Administrative Court comprises 55 judges from the various German federal states with diverse professional and life experiences. They are organised in senates. For decisions taken in written proceedings, the deciding senate will consist of three judges, if ruling upon an oral hearing, five judges. One judge will preside over the oral hearing. However, all judges have an equal vote in any decision.
The Federal Administrative Court has ten senates for appeals on points of law and two senates dealing with military affairs. Each senate is responsible for a specific field.
Cases are adjudged on the basis of the law of the Federal Republic of Germany. In many cases, legal acts of the European Union are also relevant. Previous rulings of the Federal Administrative Court play an important role in interpreting these provisions, just as do the rulings of the Federal Constitutional Court, the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights.
The senates are supported by the 150-strong staff of the court registry, the general and the technical administration, the presidential department and the information services, as well as the research assistants. The president of the Federal Administrative Court is responsible for the court administration and acts as the representative of the court vis-à-vis the public. The president is himself a judge and presiding judge of a senate.
The court processes approximately 1,500 cases a year – its decisions in these cases have great influence. In all of Germany, the public authorities of the federal government, federal states and municipalities as well as public entities such as universities are guided by the decisions of the Federal Administrative Court.