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Germany: Third Parties Have Legal Right to Anonymized Copy of Civil Decisions

(June 12, 2017) On April 5, 2017, the German Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) held that civil courts must make anonymized copies of decisions available to third parties.  It added that the third party does not need to prove a legitimate interest, as is generally necessary to inspect court records.  The BGH decision was published on May 9, 2017.  (BGH, docket no. IV AR (VZ) 2/16, Apr. 5, 2017, ¶ 10, BGH website (in German).)

The Court stated that receiving an anonymized copy of a decision is not the same as or comparable to inspecting court records.  Inspecting court records might infringe the constitutional right to informational self-determination of the parties whose personal data is thereby made public, whereas this is not the case if personal data is redacted.  (Id. at 14 & 15.)  The Court reiterated that the duty to make anonymized copies of decisions available to the public is part of the public task of the courts to publish decisions and is derived from the rule of law, the duty of the state to provide access to justice, the principle of democracy, and the principle of the separation of powers.  (Id. at 16.)  In the Court’s view, the right to receive an anonymized copy is not restricted to final decisions or orders but includes preliminary decisions that may be appealed.  (Id. at 17.)

The BGH further held that the publication of an anonymized decision can only be refused in exceptional cases, if the rights of the parties in the case prevail over the rights of the third party.  In such a case, the court may decide to redact entire passages of the decision.  A complete refusal to provide an anonymized copy can only be justified by imperative reasons that the parties have to assert in the initial trial.  (Id. at 18.)

Similar Cases from Other Courts

The Federal Administrative Court (Bundesverwaltungsgericht, BVerwG) in 1997 and the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, BVerfG) in 2015 also ruled that the publication of decisions that are or could be of interest to the public is a public task of the judiciary and binds all courts. They stated that those decisions must be published with the personal data of the parties redacted to protect their right to decide when and within what limits information about their private lives should be communicated to others. (BVerwG, docket no. 6 C 3.96, Feb. 26, 1997, BVerwG website (in German); BVerfG, docket no. 1 BvR 857/15, Sept. 14, 2015, BVerfG website (in German).)