Court System in Germany - Civil Jurisdiction Structure

The branch of jurisdiction which might be of most importance for a foreign creditor is the civil division of the ordinary courts. Within those ordinary courts, the different hierarchy levels from low to high are:

  • First Instance or District Courts (Amtsgerichte)
  • Regional Courts (Landgerichte)
  • Higher Regional Courts (Oberlandesgerichte)
  • Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof).

Litigation in cases for the recovery of debts has to be initiated in first instance courts

  • by the district courts (Amtsgericht) for cases up to 5,000.- € or
  • by the regional courts (Landgericht) in cases where the obligation reaches more than 5,000.- €.

An important difference between Amtsgericht and Landgericht is that in civil cases a party must be represented by a lawyer and procurator before the Landgericht, whereas such a requirement does not exist before the Amtsgericht.

In local courts, every civil case is treated in front of a single judge, whereas in regional courts the case is treated before a panel of three judges. If so, the parties can still agree to have their case decided by a single judge (most often in practice).

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