“The language of the court is German”. This is a clear provision in the German Courts Constitution Act which reflects a long-standing tradition.
Remarkably, on 1 January 2018, the Regional Court of Frankfurt (Landgericht Frankfurt) introduced an English-speaking Chamber for Commercial Matters (see press release in German). Upon a party’s request to hear a commercial case in English, the dispute will automatically be assigned to this Chamber. If both parties agree, the hearings will be conducted in English.
The establishment of an English-speaking Chamber for Commercial Matters shall serve to establish Frankfurt as an international place of jurisdiction by bringing international proceedings, which have been conducted in England so far, to Frankfurt. After BREXIT, the ease of recognition and enforcement of judgments within the European Union will no longer apply to judgments rendered by English courts.
Frankfurt is the right choice for taking over these proceedings not only due to its importance as a financial metropolis but also due to its infrastructure and special competence in commercial law.
However, it must be noted that the establishment of an English-speaking Chamber for Commercial Matters can only be seen as a first step in the right direction. The possibility of conducting hearings in English is offered only by the Regional Court of Frankfurt and not by the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt, which is competent for appeals against judgments of the Regional Court of Frankfurt. This means that hearings in instance of appeal will be held in German only.
In addition, only the hearings before the English-speaking Chamber for Commercial Matters will be conducted in English, whereas the written submissions and the decisions will continue to be prepared in German.
Nevertheless, irrespective of the English-speaking Chamber, there is already a general tendency in civil proceedings before the Regional Court of Frankfurt where judges feel able to accept English documents and correspondences submitted by the parties as evidence (i.e., as exhibits to their submissions) without requesting (certified) translations.
In future, it would also be desirable to establish more English-speaking chambers within the Regional Court of Frankfurt in order to enable a higher degree of specialization since commercial matters are defined broadly and can originate from completely different industrial sectors.
All in all, this initiative by the Regional Court of Frankfurt is to be welcomed, but more efforts must be made to increase the long term international acceptance of Germany as a place of jurisdiction, with its advantages such as comparative high efficiency and low procedural costs.