The Federal Court of Justice (German: Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) in Karlsruhe is the highest court in the system of ordinary jurisdiction (ordentliche Gerichtsbarkeit) in Germany. It is the supreme court (court of last resort) in all matters of criminal and private law. A decision handed down by the BGH can be reversed only by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany in the rare cases that the Constitutional Court rules on constitutionality (compatibility with the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany).


Before the Federal Court of Justice of Germany was created in its present form, Germany has had several prior highest courts:

As early as 1495 there was the so-called Reichskammergericht, which existed until 1806. As from 1870, in the time of the North German Confederation, there was the Bundesoberhandelsgericht in Leipzig. Later, in 1871, it was renamed to Reichsoberhandelsgericht and its area of responsibility was amplified as well.[1] This court was unsoldered by the Reichsgericht at October 1, 1879, which was also in Leipzig.[2] On 1 October 1950, five years after the German Reich had collapsed, the Bundesgerichtshof —as it exists nowadays— was founded.[3]

Together with the Federal Administrative Court of Germany, the Federal Finance Court of Germany, the Federal Labor Court of Germany and the Federal Social Court of Germany, the Federal Court of Justice is one of the highest courts of Germany today, located in Karlsruhe and Leipzig.[4]

Organization and functions

Seat of the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe

The Federal Court of Justice of Germany is subdivided in twenty-five senates:

Twelve are civil panels (Zivilsenate), five are the criminal panels (Strafsenate) and eight are special panels.[5]

The Federal Court of Justice is to protect the unity of the jurisdiction and to develop the law. It usually just reconsiders the legal assessment of a case as a court of last resort.[6] To that effect, it can be differentiated in the area of responsibility of the Federal Court of Justice:

In civil law, it reconsiders decrees of the regional courts (Landgerichte) and of the regional appeal courts (Oberlandesgericht). In some special cases, it reconsiders first-instance decrees of the local courts (Amtsgericht) and the regional courts. It can decide that an application for revision is improper the or that it is valid, when it decides the case.[7]

In criminal law, it has to decide about applications for revision against first-instance decrees of the regional courts the regional appeal courts. It has to decide whether an application is blatantly unreasonable defendant. It can then decide without a main trial. In any other case, it decides the legal remedy after a main trial.[8]

Finally, it decides the Vorlagesachen (submission cases). If a regional appeal court plans to differ from a decision of another regional appeal court or a decision of the Federal Court of Justice, it has to inform the Federal Court of Justice, which decides the case finally and protects the unity of the jurisdiction.[9]

Since 2000, its decisions have been published on its official website.[10]


Judges of the Federal Court of Justice are selected by an electoral committee, which consists of the Secretaries of Justice of the 16 German Bundesländer and of 16 representatives appointed by the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag). Once a judge has been chosen by this committee, he or she is appointed by the President of Germany. Only individuals who possess German citizenship within the meaning of Art. 116 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, who are formally qualified to serve as a judge in accordance with § 9 DRiG and are at minimum 35 years of age can be appointed as a Judge at the Federal Court of Justice.[11]



name took office left office
1 Hermann Weinkauff (1894–1981) 1 October 1950 31 March 1960
2 Bruno Heusinger (1900–1987) 1 April 1960 31 March 1968
3 Robert Fischer (1911–1983) 1. April 1968 30. September 1977
4 Gerd Pfeiffer (1919–2007) 1 October 1977 31 December 1987
5 Walter Odersky (b. 1931) 1 January 1988 31 July 1996
6 Karlmann Geiß (b. 1935) 1 August 1996 31 May 2000
7 Günter Hirsch (b. 1943) 15 July 2000 31 January 2008
8 Klaus Tolksdorf (b. 1948) 1 February 2008 31 January 2014
9 Bettina Limperg (b. 1960) 1 July 2014

Vice Presidents[citation needed]

Presiding Judges[citation needed]

Judges[citation needed]

Attorneys admitted at the Federal Court of Justice

In all civil cases heard by the Federal Court of Justice, the parties need to be represented by an attorney who has been specifically admitted to the Bar at the Federal Court of Justice (Rechtsanwalt beim Bundesgerichtshof). This admission is the only 'special' admission within the German court system, in that an attorney at the Federal Court of Justice for civil cases cannot appear in any other court in the country. Admission at the Bundesgerichtshof is highly selective; as of May 2015 there are only 46 attorneys so admitted.[13] Candidates for admission are nominated by an electoral committee and are then chosen and appointed by the Federal Ministry of Justice.

The requirement for a representative specifically admitted to the Federal Court of Justice does not apply in criminal cases. Here, representation by any lawyer admitted to the Bar in Germany suffices.[citation needed]


Further reading

External links

Coordinates: 49°00′22″N 8°23′48″E / 49.00611°N 8.39667°E / 49.00611; 8.39667