How Long Does It Take? Some Data on German Civil and Commercial Disputes

How long will it take? Inevitably, one of the first questions of any client getting involved in litigation. So far, I have only reported about extreme cases that took 18 years and more, and posted on legislative efforts to speed up the courts. We all hardly ever tell war stories about the quick and efficient matters. So a more scientific approach appears to be called for, based on official data issued by the Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt). The German Federal Bar (Bundesrechtsanwaltskammer) has usefully summarized the most recent available data for 2010.

The summary considers the duration of first instance disputes in the District Courts (Landgerichte). Broadly speaking, the matters that fall in the first instance jurisdiction of the District Courts comprise civil and commercial disputes with a value in excess of EUR 5,000.  In total, 369,089 civil matters in the District Courts  in Germany came to an end in 2010.

On average, these matters had been pending in the courts for 8.1 months. In more detail, the distribution was as follows:

  • 33% were pending for up to 3 months,
  • 23.2% between 3 and 6 months,
  • 24.5% between 6 and 12 months,
  • 13% between 12 and 24 months,
  • and finally, 6% had been pending for more that 24 months.

However, out of the total of 369,089 disputes, only 91,768 matters went all the way to a full judgment (streitiges Urteil) – that is almost exactly one quarter (24.9%). By implication, some 75% of the disputes were dealt with by default judgments and the like, settled or withdrawn.

Looking at the matters that went all the way “to trial”, so to speak, the average duration goes up from the previous average of 8.1 months across all matters to 13.2 months. Unfortunately, no distribution analysis was readily available for these matters.

In the Local Courts (Amtsgerichte), which have jurisdiction for matters up to EUR 5,000 in value, in total 1,217,563 matters were concluded, of which 308,919 went to a full judgment, that is, approx. 25.4%. The duration for all matters was 4.7 months, and 7.1 months for those that went to a full judgment.

I would be interested to hear from you whether you consider this slow, medium or fast, compared to other jurisdictions. Also, does the total number of approx. 1,590,000 cases for a county with a population of 81.8 million strike you as high or low?

Source: BRAK-Magazin, 02/2012, p. 11

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