Where to File a Lawsuit in Germany

This Chart explains Jurisdiction and Venue in German Civil and Commercial Court Cases

The German Civil Court System at a Glance: Courts, Jurisdiction and Venue

 

The law firm Graf & Partners was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German legal matters.The Anglo-German litigation lawyer team of GP Chambers is well equipped to advise and represent clients from the UK and other English speaking countries. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070 in order to contact German lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester), managing partner and head of the litigation department. Bernhard is also frequently asked by British and US Courts and Tribunals or by legal counsels to provide expert reports and legal opinions on German law.

For more on German business and corporate law see these posts:

Director’s Duties and Liabilities under German Law

What are the Duties of Directors of German Companies (GmbH) and Corporations (Aktiengesellschaft)?

Obviously, pretty much all over the world, company directors and CEO’s have a general duty to be loyal, diligent and conscientious in managing the affairs of their company. This is also the case under German law. Directors and CEOs have to bear in mind what is best for the business and act accordingly. In this regard, German courts do apply an objective standard that does not, as a rule, depend on the specific knowledge, education, experience and abilities of the individual director. In other words: If someone takes on the job of a company director, he or she must be up to the requirements. In practice this means, that – depending on the size of the company – the director must hire and supervise qualified staff or outside consultants.

According to German case law, a company director has wide-ranging discretionary powers with regard to how to manage the company. This includes the power to take entrepreneurial decisions, even daring ones (entrepreneurial risk). Always provided, however, that the director carefully assesses the related risks before making such decisions. Under German law, actions (or inactivity) outside the limits of reasonable entrepreneurial conduct or violation of specific director’s duties may result in personal liability of the company director. The major difference between the director of a German Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH) and the CEO of a German Aktiengesellschaft is that the GmbH director must always obey the instructions of the shareholders. A vote of the shareholders (Gesellschafterbeschluss) is binding on the company director. In contrast, a CEO (Vorstand) of a German Aktiengesellschaft has much more leeway. The CEO (or the board of executors) manages the corporation as they themselves deem is best:

Section German 76  para. 1 German Stock Corporation Act states: 
Management of the stock corporation: The management board is to manage the affairs of the company on its own responsibility.

 

For example, directors (CEO’s) have an obligation under the German Stock Corporation Act (Aktiengesetz) to protect the company from financial penalties, losses and other financial harm. In their function as trustees of the company’s assets, company directors owe strict fiduciary duties. The Stock Corporation Act also provides for a number of specific duties, including those relating to the maintenance of registered share capital, bookkeeping, and the organization of the company. Finally, directors are also subject to numerous reporting requirements (including a duty to keep the securities market informed and updated) as well as strict confidentiality obligations.

Directors’ Liabilities under German Law

As a rule, only the company is liable towards outside parties, not the individual director or CEO. In other words: Third parties can rarely sue a company director directly for damages or compensation. The company is responsible for the (illegal or damaging) actions or omissions of their dirctors and CEOs. As a consequence, if a director causes financial damage by deliberately or negligently breaching their duty, the company can (and in most cases must) take internal recourse (Regress) against the director / CEO. A simple majority at the annual general meeting can force the company to seek internal recourse against a director. In such recourse proceedings (Regressanspruch), the director must prove that he or she has obeserved the relevant standard of care (Sorgfalt eines ordentlichen Geschäftsführers). The company only needs to demonstrate that it has suffered damages as a result of the actions of the director.

In exceptional circumstances, creditors of the company may bring a direct claim against a director. German statutory law permits bringing direct actions against a director where:

  • a company is unable to satisfy a claim arising from a violation of a duty by a director;
  • a company becomes insolvent and a director delayed the initiation of insolvency proceedings causing damage to the creditor; or
  • he is liable under tort law for a serious breach of duty or for a violation of legal provisions that protect certain individuals of groups of people, such as criminal provisions concerning fraudulent or false representation of the company’s affairs.

In German courts, successful direct claims have been brought against directors based on tort law where, for example, directors have deliberately published incorrect inside information. German court decisions of the last 10 to 15 years show a tendency by the courts to expand the scope of direct tort liability of directors.

For more on German business and corporate law see these posts:

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

Harsh “Unfair Competition” Rules in Germany

The German Habit of sending out Cease and Desist Letters to Competitors

When you start trading in Germany you may be in for unpleasant surprises. The first letter your German subsidiary receives may likely be a formal cease and desist notice sent by your competitor’s lawyers. Why? Because under German unfair competition laws, every business has the right to formally demand competitors to fully comply with any and all German laws. And there are many such laws and regulations, some of which a British entrepreneur or even a British lawyer would never expect to exist.

Thus, everyone who considers starting business activities in Germany should read the German Act Against Unfair Competition (Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb, UWG). Read it, shake your head, then read it again.

Some examples:

  • Every website and all stationary (letters, emails etc) must quote the complete business details including full business address, commercial register number, name(s) of director(s) and more. For details see section 5 UWG on incomplete information about a business trading in Germany.
  • Your website must have a so called “Impressum” which contains all relevant company information. Pursuant to section 5 Telemediengesetz the customer must be able to find the entire information about the offering company “easily” and “quickly”.
  • Websites must comply with German consumer protection laws and data protection laws; sounds harmless but the requirements are so complex that even most German companies are in breach of some aspects of these regulations.
  • Advertising material must specify its publisher.
  • All information on websites and advertising material must be truthful. You think that is understood and no problem? Well, here is an example for a typical mistake: We often represent British businesses which establish a German subsidiary and then make advertising statements like “25 years of experience” because the British parent company has been doing business for 25 years and they think they are allowed to make such statements for the entire group. They are not! Two weeks later, the German subisiary (a newly formed GmbH) is being served a number of cease and desist letters by German lawyers demanding to stop making this false and misleading statement, because the German subsidiary (which has made that statement in their ads) does not have 25 years of experience.
  • Another classic mistake is making an incorrect or incomplete price quotation on a website or on any advertisement material. Any mentioning of a price must clearly specify the final amount, the German VAT and any information about delivery costs. If not, this constitutes an infringement of section 1 II Preisangabenverordnung (PAngV) and in turn an infringement of the competition regulations (sections 3 and 3a UWG). Again you may think: How hard can this be? Well, take a look for yourself. It tells you a lot about German law that the regulation about how prices for goods and services must be presented is 8 pages long, see here.

Why are German Competitors (and their Lawyers) so aggressive?

These cease and desist letters (Aufforderung zur Abgabe einer strafbewehrten Unterlassungserklärung) are more than a mere nuisance because it is a peculiarity under German law that the recipient of such a lawyer’s letter must bear the competitor’s lawyers legal fees. Without any prior warning! The first letter you receive already triggers costs for you. Depending on the concrete breach these costs range from a few hundred to a few thousand Euros. And if you are unlucky, you will receive cease and desist letters from various german competitors with regard to the same breach.

Thus, German business lawyers are very interested in representing German businesses in that field, because with each such cease and desist letter they stand a good chance of earning a few thousand Euros. Their clients, your German competitors, are also keen of sending out such cease and desist letters, because it makes life difficult and expensive for new competing businesses, Ideally, this is a way for an established German business to prevent the market entry by a new company.

Do not ignore Cease and Desist Letters!

We note that British clients doing business in Germany tend to ignore such letters from competitor’s lawyers. This is a big and costly mistake, because if you to not acknowledge the breach and make a formal promise to the competitor to remedy the breach, then the competitor has the right to immediately sue your company. The competitor will apply to a German court by way of an Unterlassungsklage (action for an injunction). In most cases, the claimant will apply for an accelerated proceeding and ask for a preliminary injunction (einstweilige Unterlassungsverfügung), which – in obvious cases or if the British defendant does not properly respond – is usually granted by the German courts.

Then it becomes really dangerous, because if your company continues the breach (e.g. the website still infringes German laws or regulations) then very harsh penalties kick in. Depending on the size of your business (turnover in Germany), the number and duration of the breaches and other factors, the German court may order your company to pay a penalty (Ordnungsgeld) of up to 250,000 Euro.

Thus, in case you have been served an Unterlassungsaufforderung (cease and desist letter), you should immediately remedy the breach, then contact a German business lawyer and discuss what your options are. In most cases, if you have actually been in breach of German laws or regulations, you will have to (teeth-grindingly) acknowledge this breach (by sending them an Unterlassungserklärung) and to pay the opponent’s legal fees. In most cases, however, there is a chance to negogiate about the other side’s legal fees.

Such a formal acknowledgement (strafbewehrte Unterlassungserklärung) prevents the competitor from suing you. However, such an acknowledgment letter is only valid if it contains a promise to pay a contractual fine (Vertragsstrafeversprechen) in case you breach the same regulation again. Without such a promise to pay a fine the acknowledgement letter is worthless and you still rund the risk of being sued.

We certainly hope that we have not killed your desire to start trading in Germany. However, when you take up business activities in Germany, you should expect to be closely monitored by your German competitors. Thus, do not give them a chance to torture you with costly cease and desist letters.

By the way: It is not just competitors who may be observing you. German consumer protection groups (Verbraucherschutzorganisationen) also have the right to send out cease and desist notices.

For more on German business and corporate law see these posts:

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

Experts on German-British and German-American Legal Matters

Since 2003, the German business and corporate law firm Graf Partners LLP specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Our German business and corporate lawyers are native speaker level fluent in English, have many years of practical experience with clients from Britiain and the USA and are part of a well established network of law, tax and accounting firms.

Managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl was admitted as German Rechtsanwalt (attorney at law) to the Munich Bar in 2001 and specialises in international cases ever since, with a focus on German-American and German-English commercial, corporate and also probate cases. In addition to obtaining his German legal exams with distinction, he also graduated from the English University of Leicester where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in EU Commercial Law in 2003.

In 2014, Graf Partners LLP has set up the international litigation department GP Chambers which focuses on providing professional litigation services to British and US-American clients, both on a commercial and a private client level. The Graf Partners litigation lawyers regularly appear before German law Courts throughout the country and provide specialist legal advice, support and advocacy services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims, divorces and contentious probate. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070.

 

Your German Debtor asks for Relief from Payment?

Then you should use this opportunity to obtain a so called “abstraktes Schuldanerkenntnis” (an autonomous acknowledgement of debt) from your German debtor. This is sometimes also called “selbstständiges Schuldanerkenntnis” or “Schuldversprechen”.

In other words: You agree to grant the debtor a moratorium (or a deferred payment) of a few weeks or months, but only under the condition that the debtor signs a Schuldanerkenntnis (a formal “I owe you”).

Such a written debt acknowledgment according to section 781 German Civil Code improves the legal position of the creditor tremendously in case the debtor still does not pay after the delayed payment deadline. Firstly, this is because you can then sue the debtor in a so called “Urkundsverfahren”, which is an accelerated procedure under section 592 German Civil Procedure Rules in court. Secondly, the debtor is no longer allowed to raise objections against the validity of the initial debt.

However, such a debt acknowledgement is only accepted in court if it is in writing, i.e. it needs to be a physical document and contain the (“wet ink”) actual signature of the debtor acknowledging the debt. Emails or scanned signatures are not valid. Thus, you need to have the debtor sign the document (ideally in your presence) and you need to then obtain the original version of that IOU for your files, because you will have to submit the original document to the German court should you later decide to sue the debtor in the accelerated Urkundsprozess.

This is a very brief and simple example of a “Schuldanerkenntnis” (obviously we do not accept any liability and do not recommend that you use such a template without obtaining proper legal counsel first).

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

For more on German business and corporate law see these posts:

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Experts on German-British and German-American Legal Matters

Since 2003, the German business and corporate law firm Graf Partners LLP specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Our German business and corporate lawyers are native speaker level fluent in English, have many years of practical experience with clients from Britiain and the USA and are part of a well established network of law, tax and accounting firms.

Managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl was admitted as German Rechtsanwalt (attorney at law) to the Munich Bar in 2001 and specialises in international cases ever since, with a focus on German-American and German-English commercial, corporate and also probate cases. In addition to obtaining his German legal exams with distinction, he also graduated from the English University of Leicester where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in EU Commercial Law in 2003.

In 2014, Graf Partners LLP has set up the international litigation department GP Chambers which focuses on providing professional litigation services to British and US-American clients, both on a commercial and a private client level. The Graf Partners litigation lawyers regularly appear before German law Courts throughout the country and provide specialist legal advice, support and advocacy services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims, divorces and contentious probate. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070.

Litigation Costs in Germany: Basic Principles and an Online Cost Calculator

By German Litigation Expert Bernhard H. Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester), admitted to the Munich Bar and qualified to represent clients in Courts of Law throughout Germany

Court fees (Gerichtskosten) in Germany are based on the value of the claim (Streitwert or Gegenstandswert). The same is true for lawyers fees (Anwaltsgebühren) which are regulated by statutory law, the so called Rechtsanwaltsvergütungsgesetz (RVG). We have explained the details of litigation costs in German civil proceedings in this post:

How expensive is a German Lawsuit?

Here are some actual figures (based on the court fee table as of December 2017):

  • If claimant A sues defendant B for payment of EUR 50,000, the claimant must pay court fees of EUR 1,638.
  • If A sues B for EUR 2m, the court fees are EUR 26,800.

The German litigation financing company FORIS offers an English language version of a litigation cost calculator here.

The full court fee must be paid in at the same time the claimant files the “Klageschrift” (statement of claim). Until the court fee is fully paid, the German court will not serve the offocial court papers to the defendant. Thus, a delay in payment to the court can have catastrophic results if a claim is about to become statute barred.

If, at any time during the German civil lawsuit, the parties come to a settlement, the court fees are reduced by 2/3. This is meant to be an incentive for the parties to settle. Also, it reflects the fact that the judge does not have to write a judgement (Urteil). At the same time, the respective litigation lawyers earn a so called settlement fee (Vergleichsgebühr), which is also an incentive to come to an amicable solution.

Under German law, the winning party is entitled to full compensation for the statutory legal fees. However, experienced litigation experts in Germany are usually not willing to work for the statutory fees alone. They will usually ask for higher fees. Such additional fees are then not recoverable from the opponent.

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

For more on German business and corporate law see these posts:

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Experts on German-British and German-American Legal Matters

Since 2003, the German business and corporate law firm Graf Partners LLP specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Our German business and corporate lawyers are native speaker level fluent in English, have many years of practical experience with clients from Britiain and the USA and are part of a well established network of law, tax and accounting firms.

Managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl was admitted as German Rechtsanwalt (attorney at law) to the Munich Bar in 2001 and specialises in international cases ever since, with a focus on German-American and German-English commercial, corporate and also probate cases. In addition to obtaining his German legal exams with distinction, he also graduated from the English University of Leicester where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in EU Commercial Law in 2003.

In 2014, Graf Partners LLP has set up the international litigation department GP Chambers which focuses on providing professional litigation services to British and US-American clients, both on a commercial and a private client level. The Graf Partners litigation lawyers regularly appear before German law Courts throughout the country and provide specialist legal advice, support and advocacy services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims, divorces and contentious probate. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070.

Forensic Accountant for Business Litigation in Germany

You need to understand German company accounts?

In order to win a business or corporate law suit, understanding the numbers is often equally important as knowing the legal aspects of the case. The same is true if you plan to acquire a German business. Thus, the German-British litigation lawyers as well as the M&A experts at Graf & Partners (www.grafegal.com) regularly team up with German forensic accountant Hermann Werle.

Hermann obtained his degree in business administration from Regensburg UAS in 1982. Throughout his 25 year career he then worked as inhouse accountant, head of controlling, CFO and company director / CEO for renowned German and international companies and was involved in a number of mergers including Mallinckrodt, Sherwood Davis & Geck and U.S.-Surgical. Thus, Hermann gained a wealth of professional experience in various industrial sectors. While his core competence is finance, he also has practical experience in HR, IT, purchasing, warehousing and distribution.

In 2014, Hermann set up his own financial consultancy firm and provides professional advice to German and international firms, often in collaboration with the German and British litigation lawyers of Graf & Partners. His main focus is on the areas:

  • forensic accounting in cross-border litigation cases and
  • German-British and German-American merger & acquisition deals (financial due diligence)

We have worked with Hermann Werle on dozens of business litigation cases as well as international mergers. Our German as well as our international clients have always been extremely impressed by his skills, in particular his ability to break down and explain the most complex situations to non-accountants, i.e. to litigation lawyers and judges.

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

For more on German business and corporate law see these posts:

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Experts on German-British and German-American Legal Matters

Since 2003, the German business and corporate law firm Graf Partners LLP specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Our German business and corporate lawyers are native speaker level fluent in English, have many years of practical experience with clients from Britiain and the USA and are part of a well established network of law, tax and accounting firms.

Managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl was admitted as German Rechtsanwalt (attorney at law) to the Munich Bar in 2001 and specialises in international cases ever since, with a focus on German-American and German-English commercial, corporate and also probate cases. In addition to obtaining his German legal exams with distinction, he also graduated from the English University of Leicester where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in EU Commercial Law in 2003.

In 2014, Graf Partners LLP has set up the international litigation department GP Chambers which focuses on providing professional litigation services to British and US-American clients, both on a commercial and a private client level. The Graf Partners litigation lawyers regularly appear before German law Courts throughout the country and provide specialist legal advice, support and advocacy services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims, divorces and contentious probate. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070.

Pursuing Legal Action in Germany?

You found the German law firm perfectly equipped to address your legal needs in Germany

Since 2003, German law firm Graf & Partners specialises in providing legal advice and litigation services to British and American clients. The majority of our clients come from Britain, the USA or other English speaking countries and are in need of pursuing a legal matter in Germany. If you need a competent and trustworthy attorney anywhere in Germany, our experienced contract lawyers and bilingual litigators will be happy to assist.

The firm’s managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl and several other lawyers in our litigation team have studied and worked in the USA and/or Britain. As a result, Graft & Partners have established a unique and impressive international legal practice, which focuses specifically on British-German and German-American legal cases and issues. Our Anglo-German lawyer team is headed by British and Canadian citizen Elissa Jelowicki, a qualified English solicitor, and Registered European Lawyer, admitted to the Munich Bar Association. Therefore, foreign clients and instructing lawyers from the UK and America are able to discuss their specific case with a native English speaker, who also knows the English legal system.

Our German and British litigation lawyers appear before German law Courts throughout the country and are also experienced in (Commercial) Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution. We provide specialist legal advice, support and forensic services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims and contentious probate. In addition, our family law experts deal with international divorces and child custody matters. In relation to other legal areas, e.g. criminal law or tax, we will be happy to recommend qualified German lawyers from other chambers, who are also fluent in English.

On a regular basis, we speak on German-American and British-German legal issues at lawyer conventions and at in-house events of international companies and law firms. See here for some of the topics we have spoken on recently:

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

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Call the experts on German-British and German-American legal matters

Since 2003, the German law firm Graf Partners LLP with its headquarters in Munich specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Our German lawyers are fluent in English, have many years of practical experience with clients from Britiain and the USA and are part of a well established network of law, tax and accounting firms.

Bernhard Schmeilzl_crop1Managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl was admitted as German Rechtsanwalt (attorney at law) to the Munich Bar in 2001 and specialises in international cases ever since, especially German-American and German-English commercial and probate cases. In addition to obtaining his German legal exams with distinction, he also graduated from the English University of Leicester where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in EU Commercial Law in 2003. 

In 2014, Graf Partners LLP has set up the international litigation department GP Chambers which focuses on providing professional litigation services to British and US-American clients, both on a commercial and a private client level. The Graf Partners litigation lawyers regularly appear before German law Courts throughout the country and provide specialist legal advice, support and advocacy services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims, divorces and contentious probate. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070.

Pitfalls of German Law (Part 2)

Be careful when suing a German Kommanditgesellschaft (KG), an Offene Handelsgesellschaft (OHG) or a Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts (GBR)

The single most common mistake foreign claimants and their non-German litigation lawyers make when taking a German business to court is that they only sue the partnership itself and not the personally liable partners (persönlich haftende Gesellschafter).

To avoid any misunderstanding: This post deals with German partnerships (Personengesellschaften) as debtors, not with German limited liability companies (GmbH) or German corporations (Aktiengesellschaft). If the debtor is a German company, then – normally – only the company itself can be sued, not the company’s shareholders. There may be special circumstances when a director of even a shareholder may be personally liable for a company debt (piercing the company veil, in German: Durchgriffshaftung), but this is the exception to the rule.

The situation is entirely different with German partnerships, which come in four different shapes and forms:

  • Kommanditgesellschaft (KG), mostly in the form of a GmbH & Co KG
  • Offene Handelsgesellschaft (OHG)
  • Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts (GbR), also called BGB-Gesellschaft
  • Partnerschaftsgesellschaft (PartG)

What these German partnerships have in common is that there is at least one partner who is liable for all business debts with his entire personal property (Privatvermögen). The relevant statute is section 128 German Commercial Code (§ 128 Handelsgesetzbuch). With regard to the OHG and the GbR all partners are fully liable. With regard to the Kommanditgesellschaft (KG) there are two kinds of partners: fully liable partners (Komplementäre) and limited partners (Kommanditisten), who are only liable up to the amount they have invested.

Now, if you (or your client) have a claim against such a German KG, OHG, GbR or PartG, the biggest mistake you can make is to sue only the partnership itself. This is because with a court order against the partnership you can only enforce your claim against the partnership, i.e. the business assets of said partnership. In many cases, however, it is likely that there are no longer any business assets to go after as the partnership is doing poorly or has even folded.

In these circumstances, you will naturally want to go after the personally liable partners of the partnership. And, you can. But only if you have listed them as joint and several co-debtors (Gesamtschuldner) in your lawsuit against the partnership.

If you (or your litigation lawyer) have not done this, then the court order cannot be enforced against the partners. You will have to start a new lawsuit all over again. In some cases, you may of course face limitation problems by then (German limitation periods are explained here).

Thus, whether you sue the German partnership in Germany or abroad, you must ensure that you do not only list the partnership itself as a defendant but also every personally liable partner which you may want to enforce the court order against at a later stage. Psychologically, this puts much more presure on the defendants and thus increases the chances of payment or a favourable settlement agreement. By the way: the lawsuit costs are not increased by co-suing the partners. So there is no reason whatsoever not to include them in your court claim.

See here for other “Pitfalls of German Law“.

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

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The law firm Graf & Partners was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German legal matters.The Anglo-German litigation lawyer team of GP Chambers is well equipped to advise and represent clients from the UK, the USA and other English speaking countries. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070 in order to contact German lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester), managing partner and head of the litigation department. Bernhard is also frequently asked by British and US Courts and Tribunals or by legal counsels to provide expert reports and legal opinions on German law.

Dodging Debts by Moving to the UK?

Has your German Debtor moved to the UK and declared himself or herself bankrupt under the UK / British Insolvency Rules?

Since we specialise in British-German legal matters, our firm very often gets enquiries from German individuals, companies or banks regarding a situation whereby a German individual has moved to the United Kingdom and declared bankruptcy in order to avoid paying their debts and liabilities back in Germany. Even further, it is quite common that civil proceedings will have been commenced in Germany, but particular the individual pleads that they do not need to repay the debt in Germany in light of their bankruptcy back in the UK.

The way individuals are able to declare bankruptcy in the UK is now much much easier than before (yes, a bit shocking considering it was not that difficult before). Previously, one would have to petition to the Court, however, as of 6 April 2016, the individual debtor no longer has to. Instead, they must make an online application to an adjudicator (not a judge anymore). If a debtor’s application provides all the prescribed information, and is considered appropriate, the adjudicator will automatically (this is indeed what makes the new system scary) make a bankruptcy order pursuant to its statutory jurisdiction under the Insolvency Act 1986 (IA 1986). The adjudicator is an official appointed by the Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (again – this adjudicator no longer has to be legally qualified).

The adjudicator has no inherent discretion over whether to make an order (again this probably concerns you if you believe that the individual is not telling the truth). If the statutory requirements for an order are met, the adjudicator must make it; if they are not met, the adjudicator cannot make the order.

The statutory requirements are:

  • The adjudicator had jurisdiction under section 263Iof the IA 1986 to determine the application on the date the application was made.
  • The debtor is unable to pay his or her debts at the date of the determination.
  • No bankruptcy petition is pending in relation to the debtor at the date of the determination.
  • No bankruptcy order has been made in respect of any of the debts which are the subject of the application at the date of the determination.

The adjudicator must make a bankruptcy order against the debtor, or refuse to make such an order, before the end of 28 days from the date of the bankruptcy application, unless the adjudicator requests further information from the debtor. If the adjudicator requests further information the adjudicator has 42 days from the date of the application to make an order. If the adjudicator does not respond to the debtor before the end of this period, the application is deemed refused.

What do you do in such a situation? Well, the process is not easy, but it is possible to overturn such a bankruptcy order, referred to a lot of time as a „sham bankruptcy in order to avoid paying debts“. The courts have retained their general jurisdiction over all bankruptcy proceedings commenced following the adjudicator’s bankruptcy order (including a rescission or annulment application), and will also hear any appeal from the adjudicator’s decision to refuse to make a bankruptcy order.  Moreover, it is an offence if the individual knowingly or recklessly to make any false representation or omission in making a bankruptcy application to the adjudicator or providing any information to the adjudicator in connection with a bankruptcy application.

It is also an offence knowingly or recklessly to fail to notify the adjudicator of a matter in accordance with a requirement imposed by the legislation. It does not matter whether or not a bankruptcy order is made as a result of the relevant application, and it will be no defence that any part of the offence was committed outside England and Wales.

So, if you are owed money in Germany and believe that your German debtor has run to the UK to declare themselves bankrupt, and in fact, it is a sham, you should contact the local bankruptcy department as soon as possible so that it can be overturned.

For more information about German law, in particular civil litigation and debt collection in Germany see these posts:

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The law firm Graf & Partners was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German legal matters.The Anglo-German litigation lawyer team of GP Chambers is well equipped to advise and represent clients from the UK and other English speaking countries. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070. To contact English solicitor Elissa Jelowicki in Munich please write an e-mail to elissa(AT)grafpartner.com.

Putting Someone on Speaker Phone without telling them?

In their piece about Speakerphone Etiquette, The Huffington Post recommends:

“Always ask the person on the other end of the line if he or she minds being put on the speakerphone. Some people find them annoying and invasive.”

This is excellent advice, especially if you speak to Germans on the phone. Why so? Because a German might not only be annoyed to find out that somehas has secretly listened in on the phone conversation. Instead, he or she might even press criminal charges, because under German law, putting someone on speaker phone (without telling them first and getting their consent) may consitute a criminal offence. Section 201 German Criminal Code protects the privacy of the non-publicly spoken word. Taping a phone call without the other party’s consent (which can easily be done with any modern smart phone nowadays) is even worse.

But even if such eavesdropping is not found to be a crime under certain circumstances, both putting someone on speakerphone without telling them first and listening in on such a phone conversation does constitute a violation of German civil laws (tort) and data protection regulations. As a consequence, someone who has secretly listened in on a phone conversation, is not allowed to appear as a witness on what he or she has heard in a German court of law. civil lawsuit. Thus, the (bad) habit of having a co-worker or one’s spouse covertly listen in on a phoen call to “have a witness for what the other party has said” is not only rude, but also dangerous and useless in regards to creating evidence. Furthermore, you can end up with a costly cease and desist order.

There are exceptional circumstances when putting someone on speaker without disclosing this fact to the other party is allowed under German law, for example when there is reason to believe that the other party may insult or threaten the caller, speak about a crime etc. Or when the other party knows from previous calls that speaker phones are typically used and the caller has never objected to this in the past.

For more information about German law, in particular civil litigation in Germany see these posts:

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The law firm Graf & Partners was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German legal matters.The Anglo-German litigation lawyer team of GP Chambers is well equipped to advise and represent clients from the UK and other English speaking countries. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070 in order to contact German lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester), managing partner and head of the litigation department. Bernhard is also frequently asked by British and US Courts and Tribunals or by legal counsels to provide expert reports and legal opinions on German law.