What is a legal system

German democracy

Horst Poetzsch

To person

Until 1992, the historian and political scientist Horst Pötzsch was head of the "Political Education in Schools" department of the Federal Agency for Political Education.

The legal system is divided into private law and public law. With legal remedies - such as appeal and revision - one can contest a court decision and request its review by a higher court.

The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig (& copy AP)

Public law and private law

The law is divided into the two major areas of law, private law and public law. Private law regulates the legal relationships between individual citizens.


Its core is civil law, which is laid down in the German Civil Code (BGB). It contains regulations for everyday bourgeois life, for example for buying and selling, for leasing, lending and donating, for marriage and divorce, for maintenance claims and guardianship, for inheritance.

Private law also includes commercial law, which only applies to business people, and labor law, insofar as it includes the legal relationships between employers and employees (with the exception of civil servants), as well as copyright and patent law.

Public law regulates the relationship of the individual to public authority (state, state, municipality, public body) and the relationships between public authorities, for example between the federal government and the federal states. Public law includes administrative law, criminal law and procedural law as well as constitutional law, constitutional law and international law.

Branches of jurisdiction

The judiciary power in the Federal Republic of Germany is divided into five independent branches of the judiciary, which are distinguished by the terms "ordinary" and "special jurisdiction".

"Ordinary jurisdiction" includes civil and criminal courts, "special jurisdiction" includes administrative courts, labor courts, social courts and financial courts.

The term "ordinary jurisdiction" is historically explained by the fact that previously only civil and criminal jurisdiction was occupied by independent judges. In contrast, administrative and financial jurisdiction was exercised by officials bound by instructions. This changed with the Courts Constitution Act of 1877. Articles 92 and 97 of the Basic Law give judicial independence constitutional status.

Federal and regional courts

There are federal and state courts in all branches of the courts. There are several instances within the individual branches of the court, these are stages of the judicial process that are superordinate to one another. As a rule there are three instances, the first two are courts of the federal states, the highest instance is a federal court.

The instances of ordinary jurisdiction are local courts, regional courts, which, depending on the importance of a case, can be first or second instance, higher regional courts and the Federal Court of Justice.

The administrative, labor and social jurisdiction is three-tiered, the financial jurisdiction is two-tier. The highest instances are the Federal Administrative Court, the Federal Labor Court, the Federal Social Court and the Federal Fiscal Court.

A federal court, the Federal Patent Court, has been set up for disputes in the commercial use of patents that can be applied for and granted for inventions at the Federal Patent Office.

Constitutional jurisdiction occupies a special position.