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Germany: New English-Speaking Commercial Court Opened in the State of Baden-Württemberg

(Jan. 15, 2021) At the beginning of November 2020, the first English-speaking commercial court began operating in Germany, with locations in Stuttgart (Stuttgart Commercial Court) and Mannheim (Mannheim Commercial Court). The commercial court decides disputes in international commercial law. According to a press release issued by the State Ministry of Baden-Württemberg, the purpose of the commercial court is to strengthen Germany as a potential location for dispute resolution as an alternative to foreign courts and private arbitration. Some courts in Germany have already established English-speaking chambers for commercial matters—for example, the Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main (Landgericht Frankfurt am Main).

Organizational Structure

The two locations of the commercial court are organizationally incorporated into the Regional Court Stuttgart (Landgericht Stuttgart) and the Regional Court Mannheim (Landgericht Mannheim). The latter is already renowned for patent law and international proceedings and has gained international recognition— for example, from patent litigation brought by Apple and Samsung.

To provide legal certainty for parties and their legal disputes as well as guarantee expeditious proceedings, specialized appellate bodies at the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht) in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe are tasked with deciding appeals and complaints, applying the same special procedural rules as the commercial court.

The commercial court is equipped with the latest technological equipment and provides for video conferencing and the virtual hearing of witness and expert testimony (“video testimonies”).

Jurisdiction and Judges

In general, complex disputes in international commercial law may be conducted at the commercial court. Each location has competence to hear disputes in connection with the acquisition of companies or shares of companies, corporate disputes, and disputes resulting from mutual commercial transactions. Additionally, the Mannheim Commercial Court may also hear disputes resulting from bank and financial transactions (within the business-to-business (B2B) sector), and requires for the abovementioned matters a value in dispute of at least 2 million euros (about US$2.46 million). With regard to the Stuttgart Commercial Court, only disputes resulting from mutual commercial transactions require a value of 2 million euros in dispute.

To provide a broad scope of experience and knowledge and promote greater acceptance of its decisions, all commercial court divisions are made up of panels of three judges. Both locations consist of a commercial civil division, which is composed of three regular judges, and a division for commercial matters, with one regular judge and two commercial judges.

All judges appointed to the commercial court must be experts in commercial law and able to conduct proceedings in English. In contrast to arbitration, the parties are not allowed to choose or to appoint the judges themselves, and the judges are not allowed to be involved in other proceedings acting as counsel.

Language of Proceedings

The parties can conduct the proceedings in English and submit documents in English. However, even though there have been some attempts by the German legislature to make English an official court language in Germany, this proposal has not been taken up by the German Bundestag (national parliament). Hence, the extent to which English may be used throughout proceedings is still limited by law. According to section 184 of the Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz (GVG, Courts Constitution Act), the language of the court is German, which is why written submissions, court orders, court records, and judgments must still be in German. According to section 185 of the GVG, if proceedings are carried out with the participation of persons who do not speak German, an interpreter must be called in unless all the people involved understand the foreign language the participants speak. Furthermore, judges may also accept documents produced in English. (Section 142, para. 3 of the Zivilprozessordnung (German Code of Civil Procedure).)

International Aspects

Many jurisdictions in Asia (for example, Dubai and Singapore), but also in Europe, try to make themselves more attractive and available for international commercial disputes. Besides the Commercial Court in London, there is also the International Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal (established in 2018) and the Netherlands Commercial Court in Amsterdam (2019). The Brussels International Business Court was expected to open in 2020, but discussions are stalled. The Zurich International Commercial Court is expected to open in 2021.

Prepared by Viktoria Fritz, Law Library intern, under the supervision of Jenny Gesley, Foreign Law Specialist