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Germany: New Law Allows Broadcasting and Recording of Court Proceedings

(Oct. 24, 2017) On June 22, 2017, and September 22, 2017, respectively, the German Bundestag (parliament) and the German Bundesrat (representing the states) passed an amendment to the German Courts Constitution Act that allows live audio broadcasting of court proceedings in a separate media room for trials of interest, broadcasting of the judgment and sentencing for supreme federal court proceedings, and the recording of court proceedings of historical significance for Germany. In addition, the amendment improves access to justice for people with hearing or speech impairments.  (Gesetz zur Erweiterung der Medienöffentlichkeit in Gerichtsverfahren und zur Verbesserung der Kommunikationshilfen für Menschen mit Sprach- und Hörbehinderungen (Gesetz über die Erweiterung der Medienöffentlichkeit in Gerichtsverfahren) [EmöGG] [Act to Increase Media Access in Court Proceedings and to Improve Communication Aid for People with Speech or Hearing Impairments (Act to Increase Media Access in Judicial Proceedings), Oct. 8, 2017, BUNDESGESETZBLATT (BGBl.) [FEDERAL LAW GAZETTE] I at 3546; Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz [GVG] [Courts Constitution Act], May 9, 1975, BGBl. I at 1077, as amended, § 169, GERMAN LAWS ONLINE.)

The decision to provide audio broadcasting in a separate media work room and to permit broadcasting or recording is at the judge’s discretion and cannot be appealed. (Act to Increase Media Access in Court Proceedings, art. 1, no. 1.)

The law will enter into force six months after its October 18, 2017, publication in the Federal Law Gazette. The provision on the availability of communication aids for people with speech or hearing impairments will enter into force the day after the publication.  (Id. art. 6.)

Live Audio Broadcasting for Journalists

The amendment allows live audio broadcasting for journalists in a separate media work room at the courthouse for trials that garner considerable media interest. (Id. art. 1, no. 1a). Many media outlets had frequently requested the provision of live audio broadcasting in an adjacent room for such high-profile trials, in particular recently with regard to the on-going trial in Munich against members of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a right-wing terrorist group that is accused of committing ten murders, three bomb attacks, and 15 bank robberies in the years between 1998 and 2011.  (Antonia von der Behrens, The NSU-Case in Germany, NSU Watch website (Mar. 8, 2017).)

Broadcasting of Judgments and Sentencing from the Supreme Federal Courts

The amended Act provides for the possibility of broadcasting and recording on radio and television the pronouncements of the judgments and the sentencings of the Federal Court of Justice and other supreme federal courts. (Act to Increase Media Access in Court Proceedings, art. 1 no. 1b (3).)  The Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) is one of five supreme federal courts and is in charge of civil and criminal matters.  The other four supreme federal courts are the Federal Administrative Court (Bundesverwaltungsgericht), the Federal Labor Court (Bundesarbeitsgericht), the Federal Social Court (Bundesozialgericht), and the Federal Fiscal Court (Bundesfinanzhof).  (Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (May 23, 1949), BGBl. I at 1, as amended, art. 95 ¶ 1, available at GERMAN LAWS ONLINE (unofficial English translation).)  The broadcasting of the public pronouncement of judgments of the Federal Constitutional Court had already been allowed prior to the amendment.  (Bundesverfassungsgerichtsgesetz [Act on the Federal Constitutional Court], Aug. 11, 1993, BGBl. I at 1473, as amended, § 17a, available at GERMAN LAWS ONLINE.)

Recordings of Trials of Historical Significance

The amendment also offers the possibility of recording court proceedings of the Federal Constitutional Court and the supreme federal courts if the proceedings are deemed to be of historical significance for Germany. The recordings will not be made public or kept with the court file, but will be handed over to the German Federal Archives or a State Archive where they can be accessed by researchers, subject to certain conditions or deadlines.  (Act to Increase Media Access in Court Proceedings, art. 1 no. 1b (2), art. 2 § 17a ¶ 3.)

Access to Justice for People with Hearing or Speech Impairments

In addition, the amendment improves access to justice for people with hearing or speech impairments by allowing the use of communication aids like sign language interpretation services for the entirety of the legal proceedings. The service will be available at no cost to the person in question.  (Id. art. 1 no. 2.)  Before the amendment, while communication aid was available for the entirety of criminal proceedings, it was only available during the trial itself in civil and administrative proceedings.  (Deutscher Bundestag: Drucksachen und Protokolle (BT-Drs.) 18/10144, p. 21, Bundestag website.)

This part of the amendment aims to implement Germany’s obligations stemming from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the recommendations of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to improve the physical and communicative accessibility of courts. (BT-Drs. 18/10144, supra, p. 14; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Articles, Dec. 13, 2006, 2515 U.N.T.S. 3, art. 13, U.N. website.)