Speeding Up the Courts: Federal Constitutional Court Finds Itself Liable for Excessive Delay

BundesverfassungsgerichtWe have written here before about Germany’s legislative attempts to speed up the courts, and on the first case awarding damages for excessive delays.

For the first time now, the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) has, in a decision published today, held itself liable for damages in the amount of EUR 3,000 in a case of excessive length. The compensation was awarded to a woman who had brought a constitutional complaint (Verfassungsbeschwerde) in an anti-discrimination and equal pay case. Her constitutional complaint was filed in March 2009 and was only decided upon by the Federal Constitutional Court in September 2014. To add insult to injury, the constitutional complained was then rejected, since in the meantime, in June 2013, she had settled the underlying dispute in the labour courts from there the complaint arose – no doubt having lost patience with the court.

The court acknowledged that more than 18 months had been lost due to a conflict between the two senates as to which one had jurisdiction to hear the case. Apparently, both the First Senate from a labour law perspective, and the Second Senate, from a European law perspective, wanted to take the case on. In October 2010, the committee dealing with such conflicts allocated the matter to the Second Senate. However, as of January 2012, the overall allocation of cases was reorganised, and the matter finally ended up in the First Senate. On top of everything else, the judge to whom the matter had been allocated retired in the meantime. The court agreed that this treatment was insufficient, and resulted in an inadequate length of proceedings (unangemessene Dauer des Verfahrens). In the court’s opinion, out of the total duration of 67 months, delays in the total amount of 30 months were the court’s fault: the year took to allocate the matter to one of the two senates, and then 18 out of the 21 month after the reorganisation of the case allocation during which the case remained sitting on the desk of a judge who did not have jurisdiction. This implies, on the other hand, that a duration of 37 months or just over three years would have been acceptable.

As regards the amount of compensation, the court found that there was no direct economic loss that was to be compensated, and hence only intangible damages (immaterielle Schäden) had to be taken into account. For those, a formula is contained in the statutory provisions governing compensation, namely of EUR 1,200 per year.

The photo shows a detail of the court’s buiding in Karlsruhe, taken from the court’s website.

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