Court Proceedings

This page will introduce to some very general but just as important details when dealing with German courts. You will know what to do with a yellow envelope or what to do when running late for a hearing.

A few days ago, I received a yellow envelope from the court and I didn't have an idea what they wanted from me. Since I was in hurry, I dumped the envelope on my desk and continued with my urgent tasks. Neat thing, courts now sending yellow envelopes, as if their costs weren't already so high.

Congratulations! You just passed the fools test! This behavior can drive lawyers crazy. What else does the court have to do to attract your attention? What has to be done that you understand, when you receive a letter from court, that a case has been initiated against you? Now do not tell us that you want a remedy that you were too careless not to take a court serious?

Well, since you mention it. Is there a remedy? What will happened now?

The court has serviced you a letter with a binding response period. Depending on the procedural situation, you might still have time to respond . When the response period is over, you will not have a chance for further legal recourse. In other words, just because you ignored the court's announcement, you can totally loose a case – even if you had all the merits. Lawyers consider this as a procedural losing.

The judgment was just served to me the other day. That stupid judge made a totally wrong decision. Is there anything I can do about it? What are my rights?

Stupid decision? I cannot say. What you can do is appeal. Most likely, an attorney must do this. If this judgment is an “Urteil”, then you have one month to have your attorney file the appeal. If the decision has a different name, you might only have up to two weeks time without a chance to remedy a late filing. In any case, get active, and that ASAP. Honestly, the best time to have this question answered is yesterday.

How serious are court deadlines? Ya know, I just have a hard time to be punctual as well as Germans are.

 I. Rasche @ pixelio.deWhenever the courts sets deadlines, take them very seriously! In most cases, you will at least loose most of your rights, if not lose the case itself by not complying. So the excuse “Sorry, I was held up.” does not help. In case that you are e.g. really stuck in a traffic jam, while on your way to court, call your attorney and inform him. If your appearance is really necessary, he will ask the court to wait or take another case first. Usually, that will happen. If your presence is not really necessary, then forget the idea.      

I have been telling my creditor over and over again that I am willing, but not able, to pay. He just doesn’t listen. Now he pulled me into court. Is there any way of saving costs?

Well, there is. You will have to tell the court in writing that you agree to the plaintiff’s demand but cannot pay. The judge will pass a so-called “Anerkenntnisurteil”, an judgment by confession. But if you continue arguing, which is generally your right, you will usually lose and the costs will be extremely higher. It would be better to agree on a non-enforcement agreement. With this, the plaintiff will have 30 years time to enforce payment. Do not forget: the plaintiff can immediately start enforcing and you cannot hinder him. An attorney cannot really help in this situation. Attorneys argue law, but cannot cast any spells.           

What can I do? I received a summons for a hearing, but shortly before I got hospitalized. The doctors don’t want me to leave. I can’t make it to the hearing. What can I do?

Write a letter to the court that you are hospitalized and best add a doctor’s certificate of hospitalization. You should not only write that you are hospitalized, but you should also tell them approximately how long you will still be in the hospital and apply for the hearing be rescheduled. If you fail to follow this suggestion, a default judgment will be pronounced. You will still have the chance to appeal that decision and argue anew.

What am I to do if I get stuck in a traffic jam?

Call the court and ask that the hearing be postponed for a half hour or however long you need. If you do not call, a default judgment will be passed. In that case you will still have the chance to appeal that decision and argue anew.

What am I to do, if I don’t speak any German and I have a case against me in court. May I defend myself in English in court?

No. You may not defend yourself in court in the English language! §184 GVG clearly rules that the language of the court is German. This usually also applies to all and any documents in English and are to be submitted. However, to work with English documents is in discretion of the judge. Supposing you do not understand enough German this much to really understand what is being said, then an interpreter will be ordered. Incase your attorney overlooks this detail, do remind him, because otherwise the hearing will have to be rescheduled.   

I have been summoned as a witness. What do I have to consider?

Your duties are to appear and testify with full truth. In case a party is your relative, then you will usually not have to testify, but the judge must instruct you upon this. Lying in court is considered a serious crime and you will be convicted. However, if you just missed the hearing you will only be fined and will have come for the extra costs due to your no-show. Witnesses will be reimbursed for loss of earnings and necessary travel costs.  

Additional information