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Germany: Regional Court of Frankfurt Establishes English-Speaking Chamber for Commercial Matters

(Dec. 6, 2017) On November 2, 2017, the German Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main (Landgericht Frankfurt am Main) reported that they will establish an English-speaking Chamber for Commercial Matters in January 2018. If a party requests that the dispute be litigated in English, the dispute will be automatically assigned to the new Chamber. If both parties agree, the language used during oral arguments will be English. (Press Release, Gerichtsstandort Frankfurt wird gestärkt: Englischsprachige Kammer für Handelssachen ab Januar 2018 [Strengthening Frankfurt as a Venue: English-Speaking Chamber for Commercial Matters Starting in January 2018] (Nov. 2, 2017), Landgericht Frankfurt website.)

The President of the Regional Court of Frankfurt explained that the court sees a “chance to establish Frankfurt as an international forum,” especially after Brexit. (Id.)

Background

The German Courts Constitution Act generally provides that the language of the courts is German. However, if all parties understand a foreign language, the oral proceedings may be conducted in that foreign language without the use of an interpreter. (Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz [GVG] [Courts Constitution Act], May 9, 1975, BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBl.] [FEDERAL LAW GAZETTE] I at 1077, as amended, §§184, 185; English translation (updated through July 2, 2013) GERMAN LAWS ONLINE.) Chambers for commercial matters can be established by the German states at regional courts. (Id. § 95.) These chambers deal with disputes between merchants and are composed of one professional judge and two lay judges who are merchants. (Id.)

In 2010, several regional courts in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia embarked on a model project and established International Chambers for Commercial Matters in which the parties could choose English as the language of the oral proceedings. (Martin W. Huff, Modellprojekt in NRW. LG Köln goes international [Model Project in NRW. Regional Court of Cologne Goes International, LEGAL TRIBUNE ONLINE (Nov. 29, 2011).)

In 2014, a bill was submitted to the German parliament that would have amended the Courts Constitution Act to allow the establishment of International Chambers for Commercial Matters and to change the language of the court in such chambers to English. In addition to conducting the oral proceedings in English, the bill would have permitted the use of English for the briefs, court records, and decisions of the court. The decision of the case would have been translated into German as well.  The bill required that the case have an international element, for example, an English-language contract, and that the parties agree that the language of the proceedings would be English. (Deutscher Bundestag: Drucksachen und Protokolle [BT-Drs.] 18/1827, Bundestag website.) However, due to the “principle of discontinuity,” the bill became moot at the end of the legislative period in 2017 and will have to be resubmitted in the new legislative period. (Rules of Procedure of the German Parliament, June 25, 1980, BGBl. I at 1237, as amended, § 125, GERMAN LAWS ONLINE, English translation (updated through May 2014) German Parliament website.)