Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

German Legal Research Guide

This in-depth guide will help researchers navigate the German legal materials.

Judicial Decisions

Table of Contents

Brief Overview

As in other civil law jurisdictions, case law (Rechtsprechung) plays a much more limited role in Germany than it does in common law jurisdictions. For the most part, the German judiciary does not operate under the principle of stare decisis, and the vast majority of decisions issued by German courts are only binding on the parties to the proceedings. In practice, however, judges may, and often do, take decisions issued in prior cases into consideration, even though they are not bound by them. The only judicial decisions that are legally binding on lower courts are those issued by the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht). 

Decisions of the highest federal courts are still published in official print reporters, some of which are available at the Georgetown Law Library. Recent judicial decisions are often available on court websites, some of which may offer limited navigation in English. Bear in mind that many court websites do not offer searchable case law databases; instead, you must browse chronologically by the date of decision (or by docket number or party name). Dates of coverage vary by court. English translations are rarely provided.

Subscription-based German language legal research platforms, such as Beck-Online and Juris, offer more comprehensive, searchable databases of German case law, but the Georgetown Law Library does not provide access to these platforms. Lexis and Westlaw, the largest subscription-based U.S. legal research platforms, do not make German case law available to their U.S. academic subscribers.

Judicial Decisions in German

The Federal Constitutional Court and the Federal Court of Justice (High Court)

Decisions issued by the Constitutional Court and the Court of Justice are the easiest to locate. Print reporters are the best sources for older decisions issued prior to the late 1990s. More recent decisions may be downloaded from free online case law databases accessed through the courts’ respective websites. Decisions issued by these courts are also the most likely to be translated into English, but in practice, only a small fraction of them are translated.

  • Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht (BVerfG))
    All legislation enacted at the federal and state levels, and all actions taken by the federal and state governments, may be subject to judicial review by the Federal Constitutional Court. Its decisions are binding on all lower courts.
    • Case Law Database on the Court’s Website (German interface)
      The Court maintains this searchable database of its decisions from 1998-present. Click here for the English interface.
    • Entscheidungen des Bundesverfassungsgericht (1952–present), Call No. KK5466.5 .B86
      Decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court are published in German in this series of print reporters.
  • Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof (BGH))
    The Federal Court of Justice, also known as the Federal High Court, is the final court of appeal on all matters civil and criminal. Ordinarily, its decisions are not subject to any further review, unless they raise issues of constitutional law.
    • Case Law Database on the Court’s Website (German interface)
      The Court maintains this database of its decisions from 2000–present.
    • Entscheidungen des Bundesgerichtshofes in Strafsachen (1951–present), Call No. KK44 .B86
      Decisions of the Court of Justice in criminal matters are published in this print reporter series.
    • Entscheidungen des Bundesgerichtshofes in Zivilsachen (1951–present), Call No. KK7980.3 .B86
      Decisions of the Court of Justice in civil matters are published in this print reporter series.

Federal Courts with Specialized Subject Jurisdictions

Decisions issued by the specialized courts listed below during the past 10–15 years usually are available for download from court-maintained case law databases. These databases may be searched or browsed chronologically by date of decision, by party name or by case number. Some of them also offer keyword searching. For best results, be sure to enter search terms in German, even if the database offers limited top-level navigation in English. Dates of coverage vary by court.

Decisions Issued by Lower & Intermediate Federal Courts and by State Courts

Official court websites are the best places to look for lower/intermediate federal court and state court decisions. The Justice Portal of the Federal and State Governments maintains a convenient directory of German court websites, many of which provide online access to selected judicial decisions. When navigating German court websites, keep the following in mind:

  • Some websites may offer limited English navigation, but most interfaces will be entirely in German.
  • The availability of judicial decisions online, and the dates and comprehensiveness of coverage, will vary by court.
  • It is unlikely that you will find any judicial decisions available online that were issued prior to the late 1990s, when PDFs and other born-digital document formats became the norm.
  • Decisions issued by state courts, and by lower and intermediate federal courts, are rarely translated.

English Translations of Judicial Decisions

High-quality translations of judicial decisions are costly and time-consuming to produce. Consequently, only a small fraction of decisions issued by German courts are translated. Generally speaking, they are limited to landmark decisions issued by the Federal Constitutional Court and the Federal Court of Justice, and to decisions issued by lower courts that are likely to have a significant economic or social impact.

In addition to court websites, the resources described below are the best places to look for English translations of German court decisions. If no translation is available, an in-depth analysis of a court decision, or a summary thereof, published in a journal article or in another secondary source, is the best alternative. 

  • German Law Archive (Oxford University)
    Provides free access to English translations of selected judgments issued by the Federal Constitutional Court, the Federal Court of Justice, the Federal Labor Court, and by a few higher-level state courts.
  • German Legal Materials (University of Texas at Austin: Institute for Transnational Law)
    Provides free access to English translations of selected German court decisions on the following subjects: constitutional law, administrative law, tort law, contract law, and the law of restitution.
  • Decisions of the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court), Call No. KK5466.5 .B863 1992
    This five-volume print set offers English translations of some of the most important decisions issued by Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court. Translations are arranged by subject matter, with each volume focusing on a particular subject or group of related subjects.