Customer-Friendly Courts

By James Maxeiner

As law reformer Arthur Vanderbilt once reminded us, courts should serve litigants. Now the Upper House of the German legislature (the Bundesrat) has a remarkable proposal for doing just that: conduct and decide cases in English.

The high quality of German civil justice is widely known, but international litigants are often discouraged from conducting litigation in German courts because they don’t speak the language. This draft law would authorize special international panels that would act in English.

The justification accompanying the draft law addresses some important points:

  1. Using English proceedings will make German courts more attractive to international litigants.
  2. Many German judges already have high levels of English proficiency thanks to study abroad.
  3. Appellate panels and even the Supreme Court would be allowed to conduct proceedings for these cases in English.
  4. Since two thirds of Germans know English, these proceedings will still be widely accessible to the public.

This procedural change could indirecly benefit the American civil justice system as well. Were German courts regularly operating in English, the lessons of their successful system would be more visible to American observers.

One lesson we can already take from this reform: Legislatures and courts both can and should make life easier for litigants. Why doesn’t this happen more often in the U.S.?