German Words and Expressions for Legal Terms and Legal Professions

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Gesetzbücher - Codes of Law

German law is very different than Anglo-Saxon law. It’s based on codified law as opposed to case law, and has developed from the principles of Roman and Germanic law. The basic statutes and laws are collected in these very important collections of codes:

Gesetz - Statute

Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB) (n) - Civil Code

Strafgesetzbuch (StGB) (n) - Criminal Code

Handelsgesetzbuch (HGB) (n)- Commercial Code

Zivilprozeßordnung (ZPO) (f)- Civil Procedure

Strafprozeßordnung (StPO) (f) - Criminal Procedure

All five are loose leaf collections in red binders, seen in the offices of all courts and attorneys. They are updated regularly as Parliament changes or adds to the statutes. Apart from those five, there are of course many more statues and regulations.

Gericht - Courts of Law

Gericht (n) - Court of Law

Germany has, in ascending order, the following courts of law:

Amtsgericht (n) - County Court

Landgericht (n) - Provincial Court

Arbeitsgericht (n) - if you have problems with your employment or have been unfairly dismissed, you go to this court

Oberlandesgericht (n) - Court of appeal for LG

Bundesgerichtshof (m) - Federal Court

Schöffengericht - Jury. Jurors play a far less significant role in the German legal system than they do in the US. They are only involved in criminal matters, never in civil cases, and are therefore not called upon to assess or award damages. That’s the job of the judge, either on his own in the Amtsgerichts or with two or four colleagues in the higher courts. They then decide as a Kammer or chamber.

Bundesverfassungsgericht (n) - Highest court which deals with matters of the Constitution

Grundgesetz (n) - German Constitution

Richter (m) - judge

Rechtsanwalt (m) - attorney

The assistance of a Rechtsanwalt is obligatory in Germany, with the exception of the country court, where you can represent yourself. Rechtsanwälte wear a black toga when in court, but not a wig, which is the attire of judges and barristers in the UK. Fees for your attorney’s services are based on a statute, but following global influence, they can and often are now agreed between client and attorney. Notary fees are always based on fixed scales and it’s illegal to change them.

Assesor (m) - trainee attorney

Verteidiger - defender

Pflichtverteidiger - public defender

Staatsanwalt - prosecutor

Armenrecht - legal aid

Gebühren - fees

Notar - notary

Contrary to the UK and the US, the notary is a very important figure in the German legal system. His assistance is obligatory with any sale/purchase of real estate, probate and making of wills and the incorporation of companies, to name but a few. Contracts relating to the above matters and not signed and executed before a notary are not valid.

Judges and prosecutors are not elected by the public in Germany. All legal professions are chosen careers, and advancement of a judge from a lower court to a higher one is by merit only.

Gesellschaft (f) - corporation

Gesellschaftsgründung (f) - incorporation

Gesellschaftsvertrag (m) - deeds of incorporation

Testament (n) - will

Zeuge (m) - witness

Verwandte (f) - relatives

Vater (m) - father

Mutter (f) - mother

Kinder (f) - children

Erbe (m) - beneficiary

Nachlass (m) - estate

Testamentseröffnung (f) - reading of the will

Erbschein (m) - Grant of probate

Kaufvertrag (m) - purchase contract

Käufer (m) - buyer

Verkäufer (m) - seller

Miete (f) - lease

Grundbuch (n) - land registry

Grundbuchauszug (m) - land registry extract

Klage (f) - writ

Kläger (m) - plaintiff

Beklagter (m) - defendant

Schmerzensgeld (n) - damages

Urteil (n) - judgment

Berufung (f) - appeal

Gerichtsvollzieher (m) - bailiff