This section of the research guide highlights free and subscription-based resources for accessing German legal codes and legislation enacted by Germany's federal parliament. It also covers print resources available at the Georgetown Law Library.
In civil law systems, codes are comprehensive and systematic compilations of general legal principles that constitute primary sources of law. The theoretical frameworks established by codes are supplemented by statutes and ordinances, which are narrower in focus. Although they are enacted by legislatures, codes are distinct from ordinarily legislation in that legal scholars typically play a major role in drafting them.
German legal codes were first compiled during the late 19th century after Germany emerged as a unified state. They are updated and revised less frequently than other types of legislation. The German approach to legal codification has made a significant impact on the development of the law in other civil law jurisdictions, with the German Civil Code and the German Commercial Code being particularly influential.
The current versions of Germany's legal codes are freely available on the German government website Gesetze im Internet (Laws on the Internet) in German and in English translation. Both the German texts and the English translations are available for download in PDF format.
Commentaries (kommentare) play an important role in German legal research, providing in-depth scholarly analysis of legal codes and statutes, along with annotated examples of their application and effect. They are frequently cited as "doctrine" in the civil law tradition. Commentaries function as hybrid resources, offering both the full text of the relevant code or statute and secondary source commentary and analysis in a single package. A selection of commentaries available in print a the Georgetown Law Library follows:
Legislation enacted by Germany's federal parliament is freely available online in two formats. Session laws, which are published in chronological order, are the original texts of laws enacted by parliament. Consolidated laws are laws currently in force, which incorporate all subsequent amendments and revisions made after a law's initial enactment.
The term "session law" refers to the text of a piece of legislation at the time of it enactment. Session laws enacted by Germany's federal parliament are published in the Bundesgesetzblatt (BGBl), the Federal Law Gazette. The gazette is comprised of two parts. Part I (Tiel I) publishes federal statutes and ordinances as enacted in chronological order, plus parliamentary notices and announcements. Part II (Teil II) publishes treaties and other international agreements, as well as agreements between the federal government and the länder.
If you know the date on which a session law was enacted (or at least the month and the year), you should be able to retrieve the full text as it was published in the Bundesgesetzblatt. Bear in mind that the gazette is only available in German. It is not translated into English. Options for accessing the Bundesgesetzblatt online and in print are listed below.
The term "consolidated legislation" refers to laws that are currently in force, incorporating all amendments and revisions made subsequent to their initial enactment. The German government website Gesetze im Internet (Laws on the Internet) provides free online access to all consolidated federal legislation in German, as well as English translations of selected consolidated legislation. Additional free and subscription-based resources for locating consolidated federal legislation are described below.
Gesetze im Internet (Laws on the Internet) is a free database, maintained by the Federal Ministry of Justice and a commercial publisher. It provides access to all federal codes, statutes, and ordinances that are currently in force. It also includes English translations of selected codes and statutes. Bear in mind that even though these translations are usually of high quality, they are not authoritative. Only the German texts are legally binding. All content, in German and in English, may be viewed in a browser or downloaded in PDF format.
The resources described below can be used to identify and retrieve consolidated legislation by subject, both in the original German and in English translation. Cautionary Note About Translations: Translations vary in quality and often are not updated as frequently as legislation is amended. Always try to ascertain the date on which a translation was published and check for any subsequent amendments or revisions to the legislation.