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New law to digitise mass proceedings in Germany

The German Ministry of Justice has published a draft law to digitise proceedings before the civil courts. According to the envisaged new rules, citizens will be able to file lawsuits with a low value in dispute online.

The Federal Ministry of Justice (BMJ) has published a draft bill for the development and testing of an online civil law procedure [58-page PDF/455 KB]. The aim is to test how legal disputes before the local courts can be digitised on a uniform nationwide platform using so-called real-world laboratories. Only selected courts will act as "real-world laboratories" and test the new technology under real-life conditions for a limited period of time.

For mass actions, for example, the draft law proposes input systems for claimants and uniform technical standards to reduce the workload on the courts and speed up the processing of cases. The structured recording of court documents and the use of digital support tools shall make the work of the courts even more efficient.

Johanna Weißbach, mass actions expert at Pinsent Masons, said of the draft bill: "The mass actions of recent years have shown that the courts reach capacity limits – with regard to both personnel and tech – when processing them. Different possible solutions have been discussed and some measures have also been taken, such as the newly introduced redress action and the precedential decision procedure at the Federal Court of Justice, which is in the legislative process. Nevertheless, the gap between the courts on the one hand and the claimants and defendants on the other remains wide, meaning that further steps are needed, particularly with regard to the digitisation of the justice system."

With the bill, a new 12th book shall be added to the German Code of Civil Procedure (ZPO), which will simplify and speed up the testing of new ideas and concepts in the future. If the new law enters into force in the current state of the draft, it will be possible to file lawsuits using digital input systems. There will be extended options for proceedings without an oral hearing. In addition, the bill proposes to expand the use of video hearings and simplify the taking of evidence.

The new platform is designed to make it easier for citizens to "assert payment claims with a low value in dispute in a simple, user-friendly and digitally managed court procedure", the BMJ said. The draft bill currently stipulates €5,000 as the limit for a "low value in dispute". However, it is conceivable that this value could be increased to €8,000. This is the amount that the BMJ recently proposed as the new threshold for delimiting the jurisdiction of local courts and regional courts.

The platform will also enable the court and the parties to work on documents together and exchange them between each other. It will also allow for publication of judgements.

"This will make the justice system more efficient and modern," the Federal Minister of Justice, Marco Buschmann, said. "Citizens can contact the courts with just a few clicks. The online procedure therefore also improves access to justice." Within a few years, online communication should become the standard in civil proceedings, he said.

The online procedure would be tested for 10 years and evaluated after four and eight years.

The draft was sent to the federal states and associations and published on the BMJ website. Comments can be submitted until 12 July 2024.


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