Speeding Up the Courts: The First Award of Damages for Excessive Lenghts of Proceedings

In December 2011, we reported about the legislation that was just introduced to sanction the excessive duration of legal proceedings. The German parliament addressed concerns of the European Court of Human Rights, who had criticized Germany for lacking effective remedies for excessive lengths of proceedings. Parties to such long-drawn proceedings can now be awarded monetary damages if the courts take longer than they should have. The new provisions were not exactly received with great enthusiasm, and most commentators were sceptical or even cynical about the effectiveness of the new law. So it was very interesting to see the first damages award come in.

Interestingly, the first award did not come in a civil matter, but was related to judicial review in administrative proceedings. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (Oberverwaltungsgericht) Sachsen-Anhalt awarded EUR 3,000 in damages to a police officer who had challenged an internal decision to reallocate her to a different police unit. The administrative court had taken more that two years to come to a conclusion. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal  held that this was disproportionate, given the relatively simple nature of the matter, and hence, the claimant was entitled to damages pursuant to the new Sec. 198 Court Constitution Act (Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz – the English version is not yet updated to reflect the new provisions).

The Act provides for a standard compensation of EU 1,200 per year of excessive duration. However, the courts have been granted discretion to adjust the amount in light of the circumstances of the case. So it would appear that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has exercised its discretion and awarded somewhat higher damages. We shall see how the case law evolves, and in particular, what factors the courts will take into account when assessing the damages. Clearly, the amount in dispute would need to be a factor in order to provide real compensation in high-value disputes.


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