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Courts in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia are proposing to use English in commercial court cases in a bid to attract more international business litigation to the country.
Under the initiative, oral submissions and witness statements could be heard in English without the need for translation, although written submissions and verdicts would still be dealt with in German. The plan is set to be piloted in North Rhine-Westphalia, where the Higher Regional Court of Cologne sits.
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton Cologne-based partner Jürgen Sieger said: “There’s a drive in the long run to admit in English in German courts, and this is the first step towards that, but there’s a long way to go.”
The scheme would only exploit possibilities under the existing law, but it has been reported that Roswitha Müller-Piepenkötter and Till Steffen, the justice ministers for North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg respectively, want to change the law to allow cases to be heard in English in specially established courts.
“There have been two parallel developments,” said Oppenhoff & Partner partner Georg Maier-Reimer. “First, under the prevailing laws, the courts in Cologne and Westphalia will exploit the possibility to use English as the working language in court hearings.
“Second, there are proposals to change the law […] to go beyond this. Although I support the general purpose, I think that the draft [law proposed by the justice secretaries] goes too far. But if cut down to the essential parts, it should have a good chance of getting through.
“The way it is now, it overreaches, and the majority view may be that it’s not practicable.”