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Austria: Administrative Courts Reformed

(Jan. 6, 2014) On January 1, 2014, a major reform of the Austrian system of administrative justice went into effect. It is based on the Administrative Justice Reform Act of 2012 (Verwaltungsgerichtsbarkeit-Novelle 2012, BUNDESGESETZBLATT I 2012/51), and on numerous implementation laws and regulations of the Federation and the Austrian states (Länder). It also involved a major reform of the Federal Constitution that included a total rewriting of the Chapter on Administrative Justice (Bundes-Verfassungsgesetz [consolidated text], BUNDESGESETZBLATT No. 1/1930, as amended, arts. 129-136).

The reform created eleven new administrative courts, one for each of the nine states (Länder), one for review of the decisions of federal agencies, and one for the review of administrative decisions in tax matters. The nine state courts provide judicial review over the acts of the administrative authorities of the states, in the implementation of both state law and federal law. Appeals from the decisions of these courts can go to the Administrative Court of Justice (Verwaltungsgerichtshof), a court of last resort that until now was the only administrative court in Austria. This appellate court, however, will review only important questions of law. (Verwaltungsgerichtsbarkeit-Novelle 2012, supra.)

The reform eliminates a system of more than one hundred independent quasi-judicial bodies within administrative agencies (Günther Grassl, Major Reform of Administrative Jurisdiction System Takes Effect as from 1 January 2014, LEGAL INSIGHTS (Nov. 5, 2013)), and thereby provides judicial review at an earlier stage by eliminating layers of administrative review.

This reform of administrative justice had been under discussion in Austria for more than 20 years. One impetus for the reform was longstanding tension between Austria and the European Court of Human Rights on the need for independent judges to review matters of administrative law. (Erich Frank, Der österreichische Weg zur umfassenden Vewaltungsgerichtsbarkeit, ZEITSCHRIFT DER NABHÄNGIGEN VERWALTUNGSSENATE 151 (213), Rechtsdatenbank subscription database.)