Do eMails Qualify as Proof in a Case in Court?

Everybody uses emails nowadays and when all are in consensus one with another all is fine. But how will an email help prove anything when it goes to court? Can you prove that a contract has been closed just by eMail correspondence? Continue reading and you will know more.


Pursuant to the Civil Process Code (Zivilprozessordnung), there are several different types of evidence: expert, witness, inspection, and document. Assumingly you are now thinking that an email can qualify as a document because it contains a text that can be allocated to certain person. Actually nice ide

The legal definition of a document, as set up by BGH: " ‘Documents' are (written) records suitable as evidence for contested pleas by one party or another, incorporating declarations of ideas or thoughts." And these so called "private documents" are then signed in order to have full conclusiveness (§416 ZPO). So far the definition, let us now see how an eMail fits in.

To start with the result, eMails are not documents with conclusiveness as such. Such transmitted data can be changed without leaving a trace. The possibility of misuse is great. eMails lack permanent incorporation because they can so easily be manipulated. eMails are just not like writing on paper.

Consider eMails more as "digital documents" that do not prove - as does a paper document - that its contents are from a certain person. They only qualify for "inspection" (§371 ZPO). These documents will be inspected like the knife that stabbed a victim to death or a photograph. This does not mean that it will automatically convince the court.

By means of a lame comparison you can generally compare the situation to the list of placed calls. This will only prove that you dialed such number but not with whom you spoke and especially not what was said. An eMail proves that somebody sent you a digital document and nothing more. The sender and contents are not proven. As long as only digital documents are exchanged the opposing side can still say "he never agreed" - even though you sort of have something "in black and white".

However, there is an exception to this concept. The court can via the so-called "free consideration of evidence (§286 ZPO)" consider the contents via inspection. Now don‘t jump for joy because courts only inspect eMails in a very restrictive manner. In civil courts at least, where the court only listens to the parties and decides upon their pleas, there is a greater chance that eMails will be considered. This will be the case when both parties unanimously agree to certain details of an eMail.

The bottom line is, eMails are not official means of evidence. When making a decision, the court can respect the contents when it considers the eMail as true. Especially, a chain of mutually referring eMails can have a strong indicative effect - but only for the contents of the eMail. One detail has not yet been discussed: the author. An eMail does not prove who really sent it and especially not the person named as the sender. This is especially important when the opposing side alleges not to have sent such an eMail.


Whenever there is something important that needs to be proven, the very best will be to have everything written and signed on paper - by both parties.

As Germans love to quote in this situation: "Nur wer schreibt, der bleibt."

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