UPDATE: Legal Research in Germany Between Print and Electronic Media – An Overview

By Sebastian Omlor

Dr. Sebastian Omlor (LL.M. ’12) is a Professor of Law and Director of the Institute of Comparative Law at the University of Marburg School of Law, Germany. He holds a master’s degree in EU law (2008) and a Ph.D. degree in corporate law (Dr. iur., 2009) from Saarland University, Germany, and a master’s degree from NYU School of Law (2012).

Published January/February 2022

(Previously updated by Sebastian Omlor July/August 2012 and in May/June 2017)

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Table of Contents

Starting with a brief introduction to the German legal system and legal tradition, this article looks at legal research from a practitioner's point of view and provides an overview of the major sources for German legal research with a focus on business and commercial law, both print and online. Due to the wealth of German legal literature, it presents but a selection of the most essential sources and does not make a claim to comprehensive portrayal or completeness. Most of the materials mentioned here are in German, as any substantive law research will need to be conducted in the vernacular. To assist the foreign researcher though, references have included the translations of German laws and cases as well as select literature and websites on German law in English. Kommentare (commentaries) and Festschriften as forms of publication specific to German legal research are highlighted as is the way German case law is published and the issues this involves. Extensive coverage is given to legal databases and their growing importance to the researcher.

It will become clear that, while there is a wide variety of sources available, materials have not always been published in a consistent manner. Hence, researchers will find it difficult at times to locate certain items, notably when it comes to court decisions or administrative regulations. Not included here are business information sources such as commercial and company registers, which supplement research in business and commercial law.

Since the 1990s, the number of legal resources accessible electronically or online has grown considerably. This includes both commercial, fee-based services as well as sites that are available for free. Special mention should be made of legal resources offered on government websites and on the homepages of major legal publishers. A number of materials are made available through collaborative efforts by the government and database providers, or between several publishers. Many sources are offered under license by more than one provider. The growing market with a wide range of products that partly overlap and shifting provider collaborations sometimes make it hard for the legal researcher to keep track. It needs to be said, however, that with Juris, Beck-Online and WoltersKluwer (LexisNexis) there are three strong contenders in the market who bundle a multitude of sources pivotal in conducting legal research. At the same time, in spite of the tremendous growth in the electronic product area, legal print literature upholds its importance.

Germany has a federal system of government built on democratic principles, which is made up of 16 Länder (federal states), and is a member of the European Union, the association of a growing number of European states. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, which is known as the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) lies at the foundation of all other legislation. The highest legislative bodies are the Bundestag and the Bundesrat as the two chambers of parliament. The Federal Constitutional Court is the highest body of the judiciary, and the Federal President and Federal Government are the highest bodies of the state executive. This structure is mirrored at the level of the states with state parliaments, the state constitutional courts, and state governors and governments.

German law is governed by the federal nature of the Federal Republic of Germany and is thus not dissimilar to legal systems such as the ones in the United States or Australia. However, in contrast to these jurisdictions, the federal principle is not confined to national borders, i.e., the relations among the individual states and their relations towards the Federation. It extends to, and is crucially influenced by, Germany's membership of the European Union, which by now affords an extensive body of legislation that is binding on its individual member states directly or needs to be implemented in national law. There are basic treaties, regulations and directives. Bilateral and multilateral agreements between EU member states are now mostly replaced by EU treaties.

Germany is a civil law jurisdiction. The law is divided into three major areas: private law, public law and criminal law. The sources of the law in Germany comprise statutory law as the central and primary source, which includes the constitution, statutes and ordinances, regulations, decrees and charters. Court decisions are another source. However, in contrast to jurisdictions such as the UK or the US they do not have a precedent function in that courts are not bound to follow the decisions of higher courts in a previous case. Courts are bound by the law rather than by precedents. Custom is generally recognized to be yet another source of the law, as are interpretations of the law.

The German legal tradition and culture go back to the law of the Roman Empire, which made a strong impact on its emergence and development. German law is codified law. The idea of codification dates back to the period of European Enlightenment during the 17th and 18th centuries and, propelled by the aspirations for unification during the 19th century, resulted in the creation of law codes for the major areas of the law.[1] The development of the law in Germany must also be seen in the context of similar developments in other parts of continental Europe. There has always been strong mutual influence and exchange, which is now culminating in the rapprochement of legal systems as mentioned above.

Codification was first promoted by the enlightened rulers of Prussia and Austria (Prussia's Allgemeines Landesrecht of 1794 and Austria's Allgemeines Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch) as a means for people to know their rights and duties. Another strong impetus emanated from the adoption in 1804 of the Code Napoleon.

By the time of the establishment of the German Reich in 1871, there were only two states, Prussia and Saxony, which had codified their private law. The other German territories were governed by different types of law from ius commune to Austrian and Danish law. With the beginning of industrialization and the need for open markets, the unification of the law became an important issue. A draft of a general German commercial code had been adopted by most of the states in the Deutscher Bund (German Union) by 1866. Once the German Reich had been founded, the development of a uniform law code for the whole of Germany took on added importance.

In the years following the founding of the German Reich a number of laws were adopted in 1879 that set the scene for a common civil code: The Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz (court statutes), Konkursordnung (insolvency code), Zivilprozessordnung (code of civil procedure), and the Strafprozessordnung (code of criminal procedure), which have, with some amendments, retained their validity to date. With a procedural framework in place, work on a uniform civil code was begun, which was to take 26 years from the initial drafting until it took force on January 1, 1900. The Commercial Code (Handelsgesetzbuch) came into force on the same date. The Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch), which comprehensively covers the field of private law, is the mainstay of the German civil-law system.

The result of fine 19th century scholarship, it is written in a highly technical language and thus not easily accessible. It has been lauded for its doctrinal refinement and conceptual abstraction that leaves room for interpretation, but is not addressed to the layperson. A century after its adoption its stipulations are still largely the same, the most significant amendments having been made to the book on family law, which has seen major change,[2] and the book on the law of obligations, major parts of which have been revised by the 2001 reform of the law of obligations. The German Civil Code has also served as a model for other countries in developing their civil law codifications. Among them are Japan and Greece. Nazi rule during the period from 1933 through 1945 has left deep imprints on the development of the law in Germany after World War II. Legislative thinking has been guided by the idea of preventing any such catastrophe from ever happening again.

Another important aspect to be considered is the reunification on October 3, 1990 of the Federal Republic of Germany and the former German Democratic Republic. The legal systems had completely grown apart during the years of division. During the years since 1990, a legal system modelled on the one in the old Federal Republic has been set up in the eastern part of Germany as well. Under the Unification Treaty, certain parts of East German law have continued to retain their validity. Additional laws and regulations had to be enacted in various different fields of law to cover the specific situation that had arisen out of the joining of two completely different systems.

Select Literature:

2. The Legislative Process and Its Sources

2.1. Federal Legislative Process and Session Laws

The federal legislative process may involve any of the following bodies: The Bundestag (German parliament) as the elected representative body of the people, the Bundesrat as the representative body of the states, the federal government and the parliamentary committees. Legislative initiative may emanate from the government, members of Parliament (a parliamentary group, party or other group) or the Bundesrat. There is legislation that requires approval from the Bundesrat, e.g., legislation amending the Constitution or touching on the foundations of the federation, and there is simple legislation that does not require such Bundesrat approval. Once a bill has been passed, it is countersigned by the government minister in charge and the Federal Chancellor, executed by the Federal President and promulgated in the Bundesgesetzblatt (Federal Law Gazette). Unless otherwise stipulated, it will enter into force on the 14th day after publication in the Federal Law Gazette. Ordinances are passed by the Executive, i.e., the federal government or federal ministers. Bundesrat approval is required if they affect the interests of the states. The legislative procedure on the federal level is explained in detail on the website of the German Bundestag.

Documents that are produced and published as part of the legislative process comprise the texts of prospective new laws or statutory amendments. They also include the reasoning of the bodies initiating such legislation, which may be used as a source for construing the future law. Important preliminary draft bills used to be accessible to a wider interested public only in print and by placing a request with the respective government ministry. Major legislative projects were published in journals. Now they have begun to be published on the home pages of the government ministries in charge of the legislative project or can be accessed through the link to legislative projects (Gesetzesvorhaben und Neuregelungen) on the home page of the German Federal Government.

The official legislative process is triggered by a bill being submitted by the Bundesrat, the Federal Government or a parliamentary group within the Bundestag. This process, i.e., the passage of the bill through all chambers of parliament, is accompanied by a large number of documents. The full text of draft bills, complete with reasoning, and amendments proposed by the parliamentary committees is published in Bundestags-Drucksachen or Bundesrats-Drucksachen (Printed Matters of the Bundestag and Bundesrat), a serial publication of the Bundestag and Bundesrat, respectively. The debates of bills in the Bundestag and Bundesrat are recorded in the minutes of plenary sessions (Stenographische Berichte des Deutschen Bundestages and Stenographische Berichte des Deutschen Bundesrates, also called Plenarprotokolle). These sources are indexed in the Register zu den Verhandlungen des Deutschen Bundestags und des Bundesrats (Index to the Sessions of the German Bundestag and Bundesrat), a publication of the German Parliament's department of documentation. It has appeared as a bound set at the end of each parliamentary term since 1949. Materials of parliamentary terms (starting from 1972) are also published in bound sets by Nomos and Bundesanzeiger publishers.

Much of this information is now available on the Internet through DIP (short for Dokumentations- und Informationssystem für Parlamentarische Vorgänge - Documentation and Information System for Parliamentary Activities), a gateway to parliamentary information set up by the German Bundestag. It provides free online access to legislative materials, including the full text of draft bills as published in the Bundestags-Drucksachen, and all other documents of the legislative history, with full texts of parliamentary printed matter, and links to the full text of Part I of the Bundesgesetzblatt (Federal Law Gazette starting from 1998). DIP also provides information on initiatives that require approval by the Bundesrat or, if applicable, on EU Directives that need to be implemented by a particular law, as well as the minutes of plenary sessions, activities of members of the Bundestag and Bundesrat, and information on parliamentary activities starting from the eighth parliamentary term (i.e., late 1976).

Alternatively, there is the Parlamentsspiegel parliamentary database, an initiative launched by the 16 German state parliaments, which covers the federal materials published in the Bundestags- and Bundesrats-Drucksachen for approximately the same period as DIP, as well as the legislative materials of the states (see below at 2.2.). Minutes of plenary sessions of the Bundesrat are available from as early as the 1st parliamentary term. DIP provides access to some of the full text data from Parlamentsspiegel by linking to that information. In documenting printed matters at federal level, Parlamentsspiegel primarily covers Bundesrat materials, the reason being that the Bundesrat is the representation of Germany's federal states. Access a list of the federal data the Bundesrat covers. Parlamentsspiegel is the source to use for federal law research before 2002. Research after that date should be conducted in DIP. Inquiries regarding federal legislative materials not published in DIP or Parlamentsspiegel (up to the seventh parliamentary term in 1976) can be directed to Sach- und Sprechregister des Deutschen Bundestages, the official documentation center of the German Parliament (phone no. +49 (0)30 227 0/E-mail); materials in print and electronic formats can also be ordered from the document service of Bundesanzeiger Verlag, the Bonn-based official parliamentary and government publisher.

Juris, a partially government-owned legal database provider, provides fee-based in-depth coverage of the legislative process starting from the 15th parliamentary term.

2.2. The State Legislative Process

The documents created as part of the legislative process at the Länder or state levels are published in print format. Some states make legislative materials available on their internet homepages as well. Despite some major progress, a number of federal states still do not put these materials online, the ones available vary in content, scope and ease of searching. Given this situation, all the more importance attaches to the Parlamentsspiegel, which makes it its goal to build an integrated parliamentary information system. The Internet version was launched in 2000. It is based on the Parlamentsspiegel print version (1957-1994/95) which has been discontinued. The printed matters of the federal states are currently available online. An overview of internet homepages of the different federal states and the state materials accessible there can be found on the Parlamentsspiegel website.

If state legislative materials cannot be found either on the respective states' homepages or in the Parlamentsspiegel database, they will have to be obtained directly, usually for a fee, from the respective departments of the state parliaments.

Select Literature and Databases:

3. Federal and State Laws

Germany's federal system is reflected in the law. Legislative power is shared between the Federation and the Länder (states). When it comes to legal issues that need to be regulated uniformly for all states, exclusive legislative power rests with the Federation. This includes foreign affairs, defence, transportation, the legal protection of industrial property rights, copyright, post and telecommunications, etc. Concurrent legislation applies to fields of law, which, although uniform regulation for the federation is required, allow for state legislation as well. State legislation is repealed, however, if a federal law exists or is enacted in the same respect (e.g., civil code, criminal law, business and labor law, certain aspects of tax law). Federal laws may be supplemented by state laws when additional legal issues need to be covered and require augmentation by state law. Framework legislation, i.e., general guiding directives, is provided by the federation for certain areas that will have to be fleshed out by state laws. This applies to higher education, the protection of nature and soil, the water balance, and urban planning.

Laws at federal and state levels are adopted through the official legislative process described above. The body of statutory materials also comprises ordinances (Rechtsverordnungen) issued by the Executive (the federal or state governments) on the basis of an enacted law, and municipal orders and ordinances adopted by the local authorities. Further, there are administrative rules and regulations issued by the Executive, which serve to interpret the law. As for the latter, we will consider here generally applicable administrative regulations by federal or state authorities that require publication.

3.1. Federal Statutes and Ordinances

3.1.1. Federal Law Gazette (Bundesgesetzblatt, BGBl)

The Federal Law Gazette (Bundesgesetzblatt), Parts I and II, is the official source of Germany's valid laws, of most subordinate legislation and ordinances (Rechtsverordnungen), and of important notices. It is published in print and online by Bundesanzeiger publishers on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Justice (Bundesgesetzblatt - BGBl. Bonn: Bundesanzeiger, 1949-). New federal laws and major ordinances and amendments thereof have appeared in Part I since 1949. Issues of the print version are published, as required, approximately 50 times per year.

Part II publishes the international agreements concluded by the Federal Republic of Germany, and national laws and orders adopted for their validation and enforcement (also see 3.2. below). The text is usually provided in German and in the official languages of the agreement.

A discontinued Part III of the Bundesgesetzblatt, which used to be published in looseleaf format, contains a consolidated compilation of Germany's federal laws as amended at the time of publication between 1958 and 1969. Because of the complicated legal situation that had arisen after World War II with laws from the German Reich still in force, and new laws and decrees enacted by the Allied Powers and, later, the German parliament, the German legislators decided to review German laws and repeal obsolete statutes. The beginning and end of this process were marked by the adoption of two laws (Gesetz über die Sammlung des Bundesrechts of July 10, 1958 and Gesetz über den Abschluß der Sammlung des Bundesrechts of December 28, 1968). This compilation is still useful today in researching older versions of the law.

The Federal Law Gazette is available online in German through the following services:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Bundesgesetzblatt Access Tools: Valid federal law is officially indexed in Fundstellennachweis A (FNA), an indispensable tool in accessing the statutory materials of Bundesgesetzblatt I. It features a subject, keyword and abbreviations index and an index of valid laws of the former German Democratic Republic and related federal laws, with a separate keyword index. Fundstellennachweis A is published by the Federal Ministry of Justice at the beginning of each year, with a mid-year supplement. It appears in print (light blue supplement to Bundesgesetzblatt), as a CD-ROM and online. For any classical federal law research, using print sources Fundstellennachweis A will be the first "port of call."

Fundstellennachweis B (FNB) is the official index of Bundesgesetzblatt II (see above and below at 3.2.) and published in print (red supplement to Bundesgesetzblatt) and online.

Alternatively, the Bundesgesetzblatt Gesamtregister (Comprehensive Index to the Federal Law Gazette) covering Parts I and II from 1949–2000 indexes the valid law and, in addition, laws and ordinances that have gone out of force. It was published in cooperation with C.H. Beck (last edition in 2001/2002). By contrast, when laws are amended, the Fundstellennachweis indexes sources of the old versions for the last time in the year of amendment.

While publishing amendments, Bundesgesetzblatt I does not usually provide consolidated or revised versions of laws. The complete text of the new law as amended is only published in the event of landmark changes (e.g., anti-trust law as revised in 1998). For this reason, Bundesgesetzblatt I is not a convenient tool for practical law research if a law has been amended multiple times.

Consolidated versions of the law (for a selection see below) are offered in a wide range of publications from various German legal publishers, who publish the German federal laws complete or by subject area. Many of these are also available electronically, on CD-ROM or online, as a free or fee-based service. Texts found in unofficial publications by commercial vendors should be checked for their currency against Bundesgesetzblatt I.

3.1.2. Bundesanzeiger

Ordinances are also officially published in Bundesanzeiger (BAnz), a publication of the Federal Ministry of Justice. Commercial vendors who publish these materials online include Juris (starting from 2008) and GBI/Genios (starting from 2003).

3.1.3. Federal Tax Gazette (Bundessteuerblatt, BStBl)

Federal tax legislation is officially published in Bundessteuerblatt, the official publication of the Federal Ministry of Finance (Federal Tax Gazette - BStBl, Stollfuss, 1951-; also on CD-ROM, 1992- with online updates). Like Bundesgesetzblatt, it appears in two parts: Part I includes federal tax laws as well as federal ordinances and administrative rules and regulations. Decisions of the Federal Tax Court (Bundesfinanzhof) are published in Part II. Juris offers online access to the full texts of BStBl I and II complete from 1951, as well as of BStBl III with tax rulings from 1951 to 1967.

3.1.4. Reich Law Gazette (Reichsgesetzblatt, RGBl) and GDR Law Gazette (Gesetzblatt der DDR)

The official publications for most laws and ordinances prior to 1945 were the Reichsgesetzblatt and Reichsanzeiger, the predecessors to Bundesgesetzblatt and Bundesanzeiger. Parallel to the Bundesgesetzblatt, East Germany published the Gesetzblatt der DDR (Law Gazette of the German Democratic Republic) from 1949-1990. As some former East German laws are still valid, this source may be of some relevance as well. Both Reichsgesetzblatt and Gesetzblatt der DDR are available online (near complete) from Juris.

3.1.5. Commercial Online Publishers of Statutes and Ordinances

Commercial online publishers of German statutes beyond the ones mentioned above include the following:

The foremost commercial database of German federal law is Juris (also see below at 8.1.). First established in the early 1970s one of its goals has been to document the development of the law over time. It covers federal and state laws, rules and regulations, EU law, case law, journal articles, press announcements on high court decisions, industrial bargaining agreements, and technology law. Federal laws are covered in full text, however, starting from different points in time. All versions of a law since that time are available in full text, including the texts of laws from the Reichsgesetzblatt and other official statutory publications prior to the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany that are still in force. Juris also gives citations to much older texts. It perceives its mission as offering consolidated versions of laws including historical versions, to the extent, they have been documented. In this respect, Juris is currently the first, and in terms of its scope, single choice. Its Bundesrecht (Federal Law) database feeds on information from the Federal Ministry of Justice and, in the field of tax, from the Federal Ministry of Finance. It holds valid federal laws based on Fundstellennachweis A as well as previous versions of federal laws and ordinances, including the laws and regulations of the former German Democratic Republic still in force.

Access to the consolidated federal statutes including their historical versions, the Bundestag Drucksachen (printed matters) and the Bundesgesetzblatt, both beginning from the 15th parliamentary term, is also provided through the fee-based legislation portal Gesetzesportal launched by Juris in association with Bundesanzeiger publishers in 2007.

Beck-Online, the fee-based legal database service of C.H. Beck, the No. 1 legal publisher in Germany, features a large federal law collection, based on its ubiquitous loose-leaf services, and in addition 3,000 statutes and ordinances from the Nomos federal law database, augmented by a collection of state laws (see below at 8.2). Beck-Online has started to include older versions of laws, with a selection starting from 2000 now available.

Das Deutsche Bundesrecht by Nomos publishers is another commercial product accessible via the Internet through Beck-Online (cf. above) (20 updates per year; annual subscription or chip account; also available as a loose-leaf service with monthly updates, and on CD-ROM with four updates per year). It offers complete coverage of current federal laws (including laws of the former East Germany still in force), based on Bundesgesetzblatt I, as well as select ordinances.

WoltersKluwer Online, formerly operating under the name Jurion, has established itself in the German legal information market among others by acquiring MBO publishers and obtaining licenses from other German publishers. Its legislation database, based on MBO content, covers about 8,000 federal rules of law, a wide selection of EU laws, and, almost completely, the laws of the 16 federal states.

3.1.6. Free Law Portals

The German Federal Government and Juris in a joint project named Gesetze im Internet (Statutes on the Internet) have undertaken to put online major laws, which fall within the sphere of competence of the Federal Government Ministries. They are offered as unofficial versions and can be accessed by subject, alphabetically and by ministry, (the latter with a free-text search option). Also included is an English translation by a team of translators at Langenscheidt publishers of the First and Second Books of the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch).

A cooperation between the Ministry of Justice of North Rhine/Westphalia (NRW) and Wolters Kluwer has resulted in the free web portal Justiz-Online featuring a selection of approx. 3,000 laws and regulations, both federal and of all 16 states with a focus on NRW. These materials are updated monthly.

3.2. International and EU Law

For international treaties and agreements concluded by the Federal Republic of Germany to take effect nationally, a federal law needs to be enacted. The legislative process is recorded in the DIP and Parlamentsspiegel databases mentioned above at 2.1.

The official publication for Germany's international treaties since 1951 is Bundesgesetzblatt Teil II (BGBl. II), which publishes both the international treaty or agreement concluded and the related federal law (available online from Juris). Parlamentsspiegel and Das Deutsche Bundesrecht publish a selection.

The materials published in Bundesgesetzblatt II and their predecessors, Reichsgesetzblatt Teil II, are indexed in Fundstellennachweis B (cf. above at 3.1.1). It also provides an index of other signatory states. Other access tools include the Bundesgesetzblatt Gesamtregister (Comprehensive Index to the Federal Law Gazette) as well as a number of commercial loose-leaf publications.

The laws of the European Union increasingly influence the national laws of all its member states. This applies to the Federal Republic of Germany as well, which was among the founding members in 1951. National laws in EU countries often implement EU directives, and it is therefore necessary to check for applicable EU law. EU regulations apply directly. Without going into the details of EU law research, the major sources from a German perspective shall be mentioned here.

EU treaties and their amendments, which constitute primary EU law, are published in the Official Journal Series L and in EUR-Lex databases, as are EU directives and regulations once they have been passed into law. For Germany, EU legislation of crucial import is also published in Bundesgesetzblatt II.

Series C of the Official Journal publishes promulgations and drafts of directives and regulations as well as Commission documents. Both series appear in print and, for the past few years, in CD-ROM format (distributed in Germany by Bundesanzeiger Verlag). Free issues of the Official Journal are available online from EUR-Lex from 1998 to date. The German version of the European Union law databases EUR-Lex is offered via Juris. Some of the major directives and regulations can be found in Parlamentsspiegel. However, documentation of EU law was discontinued in 2001.

Beck-Online released its EU law module comprising EU laws and decisions underpinned by commentaries and handbooks. Selections of EU law are also offered through the commercial service WoltersKluwer Online.

German print sources on EU law include the Handbuch des europäischen Rechts (European Law Handbook), a loose-leaf service with monthly updates that covers EU treaties with comments, as well as communications, directives, and regulations. Sartorius II: Internationale Verträge und Europarecht includes EU treaties and other EU texts.

EU case law is available in full text from the web site of the European Court of Justice (from 1997), or via EUR-Lex. The official print publication for EU cases is the Sammlung der Rechtsprechung des Europäischen Gerichtshofs, which covers the decisions of the European Court of Justice since 1954. A number of commercial services are available as well.

3.3. State Laws and Subordinate Legislation

All German states publish their enacted state laws and ordinances in state law gazettes and gazettes of ordinances (the old states starting from 1947 and the new states of the former East Germany from 1990). The publishing authority may vary from one state to another and can be the state parliament, the ministry of the interior or ministry of justice, or others. In addition, most of the states publish administrative gazettes with administrative rules and ordinances. Consolidated versions are available in loose-leaf format or on CD-ROM.

Some states such as Bavaria, which existed before World War II, published law gazettes as early as then. The laws of such states were revised after the war as necessary. In the 1950s, most German states published compilations of revised laws to reflect the changes and amendments that had been made after World War II.

Commercial publishers put out consolidated compilations of state laws in loose-leaf format. One of the major names to be mentioned here is C.H. Beck.

Official Gazettes of the Laws and Subordinate Legislation of the states in print format:

Major tools for accessing both federal and state legislation include the following:

3.3.2. Online Sources

Parlamentsspiegel provides free online access to most state law gazettes through one gateway. Complete records are currently available for North-Rhine Westphalia only. An overview of the state law gazettes included in Parlamentsspiegel can be found on its website. Most federal states provide online access to their state law gazettes in one way or another, some for free and some fee based. An excellent overview is available from the joint portal of the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Justice Departments of the states at Justizportal des Bundes und der Länder. Besides federal laws, current versions of laws and ordinances of some or all states are accessible through Juris, Beck-Online, and WoltersKluwer Online.

3.4. Federal Administrative Rules and Regulations

Universally binding administrative rules and regulations are published in Bundesanzeiger, and in Gemeinsames Ministerialblatt (Joint Gazette of the Government Ministries), a publication of the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The latter has published since 1950 the federal administrative rules and regulations of various federal ministries.

In addition, there are publications on certain areas of the law, such as the Bundesarbeitsblatt (Federal Labor Law Gazette) published by the Federal Ministry of Labor or the Bundessteuerblatt (Federal Tax Gazette) of the Federal Ministry of Finance. The aforementioned publications are all included in Juris, though not all volumes of the print edition.

Juris also offers the full text of tax administrative rules and regulations (from 1978), both federal and of the 16 states, and abstracts and citations of administrative rules and regulations for labor law (from 1986) and social welfare law (from 1954), in addition the administrative rules and regulations of the 16 tates. This will tremendously facilitate legal research in this field, all the more so because they are to be cross-referenced with statutory laws and major court decisions.

As of recently, the German government in association with Juris have set up an internet portal for federal administrative rules and regulations (Verwaltungsvorschriften im Internet) giving the general public free access to current administrative rules and regulations issued by various federal government ministries. These are "living documents", meaning that they are continuously updated by the competent federal authorities.

Finding federal administrative rules and regulations outside of the Juris databases can be very tedious. One may have to fall back on statutory compilations and commentaries, which frequently provide footnote references to the relevant administrative rules.

3.5. State Administrative Rules and Regulations

The administrative rules and regulations of the states are published in print form in official gazettes of different types. Juris has offered the full text of tax regulations and citations to employment law regulations as a fee-based service for quite some time. However, as with federal rules and regulations, completeness is an issue.

Beck-Online has started to give increasing coverage to federal and state administrative rules and regulations, among others by offering its standard title Praxis der Kommunalverwaltung as a fee-based online service.

All 16 states have put some of the relevant materials on the Internet:

As with federal rules and regulations, the legal researcher will frequently have to fall back on statutory compilations and commentaries to find references to such rules and regulations. Contacting the respective state ministries of justice may also prove helpful.

Select Literature and Databases

Official Publications and Indexes of Federal Laws and Regulations (Print and CD-ROM)

Official Publications of State Laws and Regulations

See official state gazettes above.

Major Publications of Consolidated Federal Laws

Databases of Federal Laws

4. Court Practice and Court Decisions

The fundamental legal provisions underlying court practice and adjudication in the Federal Republic of Germany can be found in Articles 92 and 93 of the Basic Law. The structure of the court system follows the federal principle with courts at the federal and at state levels. The Federal Constitutional Court holds a special position and, as an organ of the constitution, is the highest German court and an independent court of the Federal Republic. It rules exclusively on constitutional issues. The Federal Constitutional Court is complemented by constitutional courts in the federal states.

Besides the constitutional courts, there are the following major categories of jurisdiction: There is ordinary jurisdiction which falls into civil and criminal jurisdiction with local, regional and higher regional courts (Amtsgerichte, Landgerichte, Oberlandesgerichte) at the state level, and, at federal level, the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice - BGH) as the highest court. Furthermore, there is administrative, fiscal, labor and social jurisdiction with courts at regional, higher regional, and federal levels. The regional and higher regional courts are, at the same time, courts of appeal of their respective states. There is a Joint Panel of the Highest Federal Courts, which acts as a supreme body of jurisdiction across all court levels and jurisdictions and decides on issues of divergent adjudication by other courts. Its authority is, however, largely restricted and cannot be compared to that of a (Federal) Supreme Court in other countries (as, for example, in the United States). Courts are divided into panels and divisions based on areas of law.

German courts of all levels pass a total of about 4.5 to 5 million decisions per year. Each case is assigned a case number that reflects the type of court, level of appeal, and subdivision. The case number and date are of great importance in citing and finding cases. When a court decision is published, it is preceded by a summary, comparable to head notes, authored by judges, press departments with the courts, or the editorial board of the publishing journal. As a rule, the names of the parties involved are not mentioned.

Court decisions by the highest courts are most completely recorded in print format in various quasi-official reporters put together by the judges of the respective courts. They are published in the large legal publishing houses, however, with much delay.

Legal journals are usually much faster in publishing court decisions. Some of them have specialized almost entirely in the publication of cases, and publish decisions of regional and higher regional courts as well (e.g., NJW-Rechtsprechungs-Report, NZA-Rechtsprechungs-Report, NVwZ-Rechtsprechungs-Report). Many of them also appear on CD-ROM. Aside from quasi-official compilations, there are various commercial publications of court decisions, at both federal and state levels, most of them in looseleaf format, but also on CD-ROM, and focused on specific fields of law. Two of the major ones are listed below.

Commercial publishers have set up databases of court decisions to be made accessible via the internet, either based on existing print versions or by cooperating with other providers. This market has undergone fundamental changes since the late 1990s and is still in flux.

Juris is the most established and oldest German database also when it comes to court reports. It currently holds over 1,000,000 decisions, about two thirds of which in full text. It covers almost completely the decisions of the highest federal courts of the past 30 or so years; older decisions are gradually being included. Juris case records are prepared at the federal courts. Lower courts are requested to report decisions to the federal courts' documentation departments, which select the decisions to be included in the Juris database system. In addition, these departments evaluate over 800 journals and compilations of court decisions. Juris also references case citations in essays and articles, and indexes discussions of decisions and judgments. Information regarding the documentation centres and a list of journals complete with scope of coverage evaluated for court decisions can be found on Juris online.

The over 1,000,000 cases offered through Beck-Online originate either from the journals it provides online or, more recently, from direct cooperation with the courts. WoltersKluwer Online currently offers over 1,000,000 cases. The highest courts, as well as a number of courts at the lower level, are now making the full text of more recent decisions accessible for free on their homepages (cf. below).

Finding decisions is sometimes not easy, even with improved access thanks to free internet pages and extensive online collections such as the ones in Juris and other databases. Court decisions passed prior to the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany, which may still be relevant today, can only be found in Juris, which provides access to the decisions published in RGZ and RGSt. Looking for other references the researcher will depend on these being referred to in commentaries or other legal literature. Another problem is that Juris does not sufficiently cover a large portion of court decisions from the lower courts, or does not provide the full text of decisions. The only option then is to order such decisions directly from the courts. This requires the case number and date to be known.

Increasingly, courts offer a case ordering service by e-mail via their homepages (e.g., the Federal Court of Justice, the Federal Labor Court, the Federal Tax Court). Publishers sometimes provide the full text of decisions for a small fee. Some courts such as the Federal Court of Justice and the Federal Labor Court have established a subscription service and, for a fee, mail out all their decisions in print or on disk. The names of the parties in a case are usually removed before mailing or posting on the Internet.

Select Literature and Databases

Case Reporters of the Highest Courts

Case Reporters of Higher Regional Courts

Major Commercial Case Reporters:

Federal Court of Justice (BGH) Cases:

Federal Labor Court Cases

Federal Administrative Court Cases

Case Databases (free or mostly free)

Case Databases (commercial/fee-based):

German law and its development are documented by a wealth of legal literature. Commentaries, handbooks, textbooks, journals and dictionaries are often the first tools used by the legal researcher to obtain an overview of the field or to find leads to laws and cases. Brief descriptions and lists of some of the major ones will be given below.

5.1. Commentaries (Kommentare)

This typical genre of German legal literature is central to practice-oriented legal research and often the source to which the legal researcher turns first. It provides commentary section by section on a particular law with extensive footnoting and references to cases and court decisions, articles, monographs and other legal literature. The text of the law is usually included as well. By explaining and interpreting the text of statutes and linking to relevant cases and court decisions, commentaries link together two major sources of law. There are commentaries for both federal and state laws, however, by far not for all of them. In such cases one needs to examine if and to what extent such laws are considered in other commentaries. Ideally, commentaries, aside from pointing to cases, including those not otherwise published in databases or case reporters, also make reference to subordinate legislation, administrative rules and regulations and legislative materials as well as applicable EU legislation pertaining to the law they are annotating. They are often known by the names of their authors, rather than by their actual titles, for example Palandt as the major short commentary on the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch) or Baumbach/Hueck, the commentary on the German Commercial Code (Handelsgesetzbuch).

Commentaries appear in two major formats: Kurzkommentare (hand commentaries) and Grosskommentare (large commentaries). Published as single-volume sets, hand commentaries are strongly geared to practice needs and are re-edited more frequently. They are much more current than the multi-volume large commentaries, which may take up to a decade to be published in their entirety. Some of the major hand commentaries are re-edited regularly, such as Palandt, which appears each year in December (with major amendments recently being downloadable from the homepage of the publisher, C.H. Beck). Unfortunately, commentaries are not re-edited with the same regularity in all fields of law. Even hand commentaries may take years to be updated. This is because frequent changes in the law make it very difficult to keep commentaries up to date. Some publishers take account of this situation by publishing an increasing number of commentaries in loose-leaf format.

In recent years commercial providers have made a growing number of commentaries available online. All the major legal databases offer at least some online commentaries. These are updated more frequently, thus alleviating the situation in the print market described above. Special mention in this context should be made of C.H. Beck publishers. Already the market leader as far as print products are concerned, Beck-Online with currently about 180 online commentaries is top of the list here too.

The other legal database providers make available online commentaries as well:

5.1.1. Selection of Major Commentaries

Basic Law

Civil Code

Code of Civil Procedure

Code of Criminal Procedure

Commercial Code

Competition Law

Criminal Code

EU Law

Family Law

Labor Law

Law of Succession

Rental Law

Social Code

Tax Law

5.2. Handbooks


Administrative Law

Business and Commercial Law

Competition Law

Criminal Law

Distribution Law

Family Law

Labor Law

Law of Succession

Leasing Law

Rental Law

5.3. Form Books and Standard Contracts

Standard documents, forms, and standard contracts are published in the German legal book market as single-volume editions on a particular subject of law and as multi-volume sets covering a wider range of subjects with detailed tables of contents and indexes provide adequate overview. Some of these books not only offer standard documents and forms but also annotations and short commentary as an additional aid for the user. Aside from one- and multi-volume bound sets, there are entire serials, with each of the volumes dealing with one particular subject. Another form in which this type of legal literature is published is a combined monograph of the subject and pertinent forms complete with explanations. Handbooks and textbooks, too, sometimes provide standard documents and forms on the subject they are treating. This type of legal literature, largely the works that until now were on the market as print versions, is meanwhile available in the major legal databases as well. A number of websites offer contract forms, some free and some for a fee. These include JuraForum.

Form Books Covering Several Areas of Law

Special-Subject Form Books and Standard Contract Compilations

5.4. Legal Journals, Essays and Article Literature

There are over 600 legal journals in Germany published by a range of commercial vendors and covering every field of law. Unlike, for example, in the US, they are not written by law schools. They usually consist of three parts: scholarly treatises, cases, statutory laws and regulations, and documentation. In addition, they publish essays, discussions of cases, book reviews and information on developments of the law. As mentioned in section 4 (above), some journals specialize in publishing court decisions. They also give more extensive coverage than other journals of decisions of lower courts.

A special form of publication for essays is what is known as Festschriften. These are compilations of scholarly essays, usually on a certain topic, devoted to the anniversaries of important personalities or institutions. They are generally published in single-volume sets.

5.4.1. Access Tools

Essays and articles can be accessed electronically through Juris, which indexes over 600 legal journals as well as the contents of Festschriften and yearbooks. For copyright reasons, juris does not provide the full text of these articles and essays, but only abstracts and citations. However, Juris has entered into contractual relations with a number of publishers and, through its own databases, now does offer 31 journals in full text.

Journals can also be accessed through a number of other databases. These include Beck-Online and WoltersKluwer Online. Beck-Online has expanded its contents rapidly over the past few years and now holds some 75 journals in full text. Most of them are C.H. Beck publications with some journals such as Betriebs-Berater and Wertpapier-Mitteilungen licensed from other publishers as well. WoltersKluwer Online offers the full text of 15 journals and, additionally, abstracts of about 170 journals.

The Karlsruher Juristische Bibliographie is another major access tool, which indexes German legal literature since 1965. It is published monthly and includes books and essays, including those from Festschriften and anthologies, as well as doctoral theses on legal topics. It is arranged by subject and, under each subject, by author, and has annual indexes.

NJW Leitsatzkartei auf CD-ROM, published by C.H. Beck on CD-ROM, is a journal index with four annual updates, including headnotes of court reports and article abstracts of an estimated over 600,000 documents from 170 legal journals since 1981 (with 20,000 documents added every year) searchable by section, court, date, case number, author, and keywords. This journal index is also part of Beck-Online.

Fundhefte, published by C.H. Beck, are specialized bibliographies for certain fields of law (such as public law and civil law, indexing the literature and important cases in that field (published with one year's delay). They appear annually and index their content after quite some delay. They are mentioned here for the sake of completeness as their importance has diminished greatly over the past few years.

Kuselit-R, published by Kuselit Verlag, is a bibliography of legal literature with more than 2 million index records from over 750 journals, yearbooks, monographs, Festschriften, and loose-leaf services, available as an online service in combination with an annual CD-ROM. The database is updated twice a week. Festschriften from 1862 up until 1996 can be accessed through a ten-volume set Bibliography of Legal Festschriften Titles and Contents. Bibliographie juristischer Festschriften und Festschriftenbeiträge. (also on CD-ROM) edited by Helmut Dau and published by Verlag Müller, Karlsruhe/Verlag Runge, Bielefeld/Verlag Arno Spitz, Berlin/BWV Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag between 1962 and 1999. Kuselit offers a free journal contents service delivered twice a week.

As full text is a frequent problem with databases, obtaining articles and also doctoral theses, extracts from books and other materials is facilitated by document delivery services. Prominent here is Subito, the document delivery service of the German library unions, which covers a large number of state and university libraries and, for a fee, provides copies from journals and magazines, books, doctoral theses, etc. by fax, mail or e-mail.

General and Civil Law

Administrative Law

Business and Commercial Law

Competition Law

European Law

Labor Law

Tax Law

Journal Databases

5.5. Major Law Dictionaries

Forms of citation may vary from one publication or author to another. The following are the major hard-and-fast rules for citations to laws, cases, monographs, commentaries, and journal articles. German statutes, journals, case reporters, law gazettes, and also courts are cited by their abbreviations. Abbreviations for statutes are determined by the legislator, those for journals often by the publisher. Access to abbreviation indexes is therefore important for the legal researcher.

Common forms of citation and abbreviation are summarized in Kirchner (founder). Abkürzungsverzeichnis der Rechtssprache. 6th edition. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2008. Juris, by and large, sticks to the official abbreviations, but sometimes, for IT or administrative reasons, uses divergent ones.

Statutes are divided into sections and subsections, and the latter into sentences. Sections are usually referred to by the section sign (§) and subsections by Abs. (for the German word Absatz) and Arab numerals. The citation to section 5 subsection 3, first sentence of the German Limited Liability Company Act would look as follows: § 1 Abs. 1 Satz 1 GmbHG. Citations to Bundesgesetzblatt and Bundessteuerblatt as official sources of legislation include the source abbreviation, part number, year and page as follows: BGBl I 1999, 205 or BStBl II 2000, 103

Citations to commentaries may not be entirely uniform, but usually include the founder (who is treated like an author), the author of the particular passage cited (or the title of the commentary and the author of a particular passage) and the section and annotation number (in rare cases, page numbers are mentioned as well). Sometimes, if the reference to the section commented on is obvious, the section itself is not mentioned. Some commentaries give recommendations as to the form of citation to use, usually by an example, on the back of the title page.

Cases are usually referred to by citation to the publication with volume and page number (BVerfGE 40, 46) or the court, publication and page number (LG Augsburg, NJW 2000, 2363) or the court, date of decision, case number, and source reference (OLG Frankfurt a.M., Urt. v. 7.12.1999 - Z Ss 259/99 -, NJW 2001, 908). Indication of the court, case number, date of court decision and source reference would be desirable, but is not at all common.

Monographs are referred to by the name and first name (or at least initial) of the author, title, edition (if applicable), place and year of publication. In German usage, the name of the publisher is not part of the citation (e.g., Tipke, Klaus, Steuerrecht: Ein systematischer Grundriß, 12. völlig überarb. Aufl., Köln, 1989).

Journal articles are cited by author and title plus reference to the journal (usually the abbreviation), year of publication and page number (e.g., Hufen, F., In dubio pro dignitate. In: NJW 2001, 849 or sometimes in article footnotes just by author, e.g., Steffen, NJW 1996, 1581). With longer articles, reference is often made to the page relevant to a particular subject.

A bibliography of translations of German statutes has been published by the Press and Information Office of the German Federal Government. Volume 1 deals with translations into English (Presse-und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung. Auslandsabteilung. Übersetzungen deutscher Gesetzestexte. Eine Bibliographie. Translations of German Laws. A Bibliography. Vol. 1 English. Bonn: April 1997.)

Pointers to English translations of German laws, cases and other legal resources in English can be found on the following websites:

The Federal Ministry of Justice and Juris in their free Statutes on the Internet portal offer the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch - BGB, cf above at 1.) in English translation. Often, translations of laws are also provided on the homepages of government ministries and agencies (Access the Directory of German-language catalogs and isntitutions).

Mention should be made here of the German Law Accessible serial by C.H. Beck publishers with introductions to various fields of German law in English. They also include English translations of German laws:

The major legal databases available in Germany are described in some more detail below. All of them are fee-based. Their price models vary widely, including different types of flat rate and pay-per document models. Their contents partly overlap. All of them seek collaboration with publishers and other content providers to expand their data and product range.


8.2. Beck-Online

The second major legal database beside Juris, was launched in 2001 and is primarily based on the publications of, and operated by, C.H. Beck publishers as the market leader of legal print literature in Germany. Beck-Online’s hallmark is the high percentage of full text from all forms of legal publications making it an electronic library in the true sense of the word. The database consists of a large number of modules, each pulling together the legal sources for one particular field of law.


8.3. WoltersKluwer Online

The German legal division of the international database host, WoltersKluwer is considered to be the third major legal database provider in Germany.


Awareness and news services gain growing importance in keeping abreast of current legal developments. The federal government, the courts and other authorities and institutions, as well as legal database providers and publishers offer a variety of free newsletters and news tickers, and, with the advent of Web 2.0, RSS news feeds, podcasts and blogs.

9.1. RSS Feeds

RSS feeds require a reader, which can usually be downloaded from the respective websites.

News feeds by Otto Schmidt publishers on the following fields of law:

9.2. Electronic Newsletters, News Tickers, Blogs and Podcasts

10.1. Government

10.2. Courts

10.4. University and Central Libraries

10.6. Major Professional Organizations

[1] Cf. Robbers, Gerhard, Einführung in das deutsche Recht, 2nd edition, Baden-Baden: Nomos Verl.-Ges., 1998, p. 19.

[2] Cf. Ebke, Werner F./Finkin, Matthew W. Introduction to German Law. The Hague: Kluwer, 1996., p. 2 et seq.