10 FAQ about filing a Constitutional Complaint in Germany

As part of my very popular series of legal FAQ, I introduce the German Constitutional Complaint (“Verfassungsbeschwerde”) today. It is a way by which every citizen and even foreign citizens living in Germany can address the Supreme Court if they feel that their human rights have been violated.

Before asking a new question, please read through the comments which may already answer your questions. And do you see the “Make a Donation” button on the top right of your screen? If you find these FAQ useful or if you ask a new question, it would be very nice if you make use of it. Thank you!

1. I feel that my human rights have been violated in or by Germany. Can I seek redress against this?

Yes. Everyone can file a constitutional complaint (“Verfassungsbeschwerde”) with the Supreme Court (“Bundesverfassungsgericht”) if the appellant believes and argues that his/her fundamental rights have been violated by an act of the German executive, by a German court order or by a German act of parliament.

2. What are these fundamental rights that I have in Germany?

They are all the fundamental rights enumerated in Art. 1 through 19 of the Constitution (“Grundgesetz” [GG]) as well as the rights mentioned in Art. 20 IV, 33, 38, 101, 103 and 104 GG.

Some of these, like freedom of assembly (Art. 8 I GG), freedom of association (Art. 9 I GG), freedom of movement (Art. 11 I GG), the protection against removal of German citizenship and others, are citizens’ rights and are only applicable if you have German citizenship.

Other rights, like human dignity (Art. 1 I GG), equal protection (Art. 3 I), equality between men and women (Art. 3 II), protection from discrimination (Art. 3 III), freedom of religion (Art. 4 I), free speech (Art. 5 I) and many others, are human rights and you can also invoke them if you are not a German citizen.

3. How hard or easy is it to file such a constitutional complaint?

Theoretically it’s very easy. You don’t need to be represented by a lawyer, you can write the complaint yourself and the court charges no fees (except in frivolous cases).

What is hard however is to file a successful complaint. The Supreme Court receives thousands of constitutional complaints every year. In 2011, only 1.62 % of these were successful.

4. Why are the chances of success so small?

For one, many of the constitutional complaints don’t have any merit. If you are thinking of not paying taxes and and want to base this on “freedom of religion” (Art. 4 I GG) because you founded your own cult which does not believe in paying taxes, don’t waste your time bothering the court. If you have been convicted of a crime and are appealing your prison sentence for violation of your “freedom of movement” (Art. 11 I GG), save yourself the time.

Second, there are a whole number of formal requirements, some of them easier, some of them quite complicated, that need to be met in order for your complaint to even qualify for the judges to read through it.

5. What are the formal requirements for the constitutional complaint?

There are plenty and I can’t go into all of them here. I will list the ones that usually cause the complaints to fail or that cause me to dissuade a client from filing a constitutional complaint:

(a) You can only seek remedy against acts of the state. If your human rights have been violated by a company, by a private individual or by your spouse, you have to address this to the civil courts.

(b) The constitutional complaint is the last resort. You need to have exhausted all other remedies and appeals before addressing the Supreme Court. If you are not happy with a verdict of a Family Court or a Criminal Court, you need to file the regular appeal(s) first. If you don’t like that the police ordered you to do something, you need to sue them in the Administrative Court first, then go through the appeals and then you can finally address the Supreme Court. Because of this, the Supreme Court usually hears cases years after the underlying situation actually occurred.

(c) The constitutional complaint needs to include all the necessary information and documents to enable the Supreme Court to decide the case. You need to point out which of your constitutional rights has or have been violated and you need to explain how they have been violated. You need to show what attempts you have made in the lower courts to seek redress against this problem.

6. Is there a deadline for filing the constitutional complaint?

Yes. It is one month from the time of the last court order, usually the denial of your last appeal. One month is a short time to put together a solid and well-written constitutional complaint, so you better contact me or another lawyer as soon as possible.

7. Is the Supreme Court another Appeals Court?

No. Absolutely not. The Supreme Court only looks at whether your constitutional rights have been violated. It does not supplement the lower courts’ decisions with its own decision. The Supreme Court may think that the lower courts were wrong in evaluating the facts, that they miscalculated damages, that a sentence was too harsh, that a decision should have been issued differently from the way it was, but all of this is irrelevant, as long as it does not touch on your constitutional rights.

It is therefore imperative to limit the constitutional complaint to matters constitutional and not attempt to retry the whole case once more.

8. Are there any other constitutional complaints in Germany?

Yes. Germany is a Federal Republic and thus each of the 16 states has its own Constitutional or Supreme Court. 10 of these states allow constitutional complaints. Baden-Württemberg just introduced this possibility and it will be available from April 2013 on. Before the State Supreme Court, you can only claim your rights under the State Constitution. Most of the basic rights are however very similar to those in the Federal Constitution.

9. Can I go to the European Court of Human Rights instead?

It depends on the specific case, but usually no. Or more precisely: not yet. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) requires that you have exhausted all possible remedies in national law, including the German constitutional complaint. Thus, if you do not address the German Supreme Court before and await its decision, your human rights complaint will be dismissed by the ECtHR in Strasbourg on formal grounds.

10. Can you help me with my case?

Sure. I can determine if your case has any merits and if you then decide to go ahead, I’ll be happy to write the constitutional complaint for you. 

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About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in German Law, Germany, Human Rights, Law and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to 10 FAQ about filing a Constitutional Complaint in Germany

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  7. Do you know anything about redressing human rights violations in the US? I think my freedom of NOT being pissed off was violated by all the campaign ads this year, especially as I currently live in Ohio. ;)

    • 1. I know how to turn off a TV.
      2. As a lawyer, I know how to bill for even the most mundane advice. Better be careful! :P

    • g says:

      I too agree with all the t.v. ads some just straight out lie about what your voting for it was so bad in michigan that voters couldn’t determine what was the truth so most voters just voted on no changes across the board to play it safe! I
      get how government make all the industries operate under the truth or be sued but when election time comes around the can lie or distort the truth, shouldn’t the lead by example?

    • Sorry,no can do. There’s no profit in integrity or being good examples. ;)

  8. Rowena says:

    I had been separated from my German husband and is living now in my country for almost four months. I have received lately a form of income tax return for 2011 send by my husband to be signed by me which we always do; signing both the form. Do I have the right to disregard signing it since i only got my financial support from him till July 2011? Will I really be charge for 2500 Euro by the German finance office as what he is warning me if I reject signing on the form beside his signature?
    Thank you so much for your time reading and answering my doubts and worry. More power!

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  11. Tim says:

    As a miniority, I feel certain level of discrimination in my efforts in buying a house. There has been several cases but in the last one, very recently, although I offered 5000 euros more than a German buyer, I lost the bid. It seems that both the sellers – perhaps influenced by neighbours – rejects buyers who are not German but German citizens. This is a painfull discriminatory attitude that the courts have to find a way to prevent.

    • 1) Every house can only be sold once, so a lot of people will lose out all the time.
      2) Hundreds of thousands of properties in Germany are owned by foreigners, so it can’t be that bad.
      3) The Constitution protects you against discrimination by the state. A private person is far more liberal in whom they sell to or do business with.

  12. kris says:

    Hi Andreas, I hope your travels are serving you well!

    Can you please tell me how I can file a complaint for a lawyer in Berlin who has been paid but didnt provide the services he was prepaid to do? He also didnt provide a receipt for cash paid advisory visits regarding my visa. I have email proofs for these visits and a receipt showing he owes me money for the case he went south on.

    The guy is an absolute dirt bag whom deserves a crack in the jaw, but we both know that’s probably not the best way to deal with such. :)

    Any advise u can offer other than punching him out, would be highly appreciated :-) I hate aggression.

    • I would need to look at all the correspondence between you and the lawyer. I charge 400 EUR for such a consultation.

    • kris says:

      Thank you for the reply Andreas.

      :-) Nice fee. Unfortunately, that’s out of my budget and more than the (300 euro) in what he has failed to return to me. Its clear an obvious he owes me the money due to the receipt he gave me. He also fails to provide receipts at times and demands cash payments. He misses appointments and provides wrong info for auslanders. I just wanted to know where to file a complaint.

      Lawyers preoccupied by avarice and who take advantage of clients, are parasites.

      I’ll try Toy Town in a post. I have also seen post complaints about this Baron’s negligence there.

      All the best and happy travels,
      Thankyou.
      K

    • Toy Town is not the way to raise an effective complaint. If you only want to know whom to contact for that, I can provide that information for a small donation (see the Paypal button on the top right).

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  15. Iftikhar says:

    looking for an advise on an issue how i can write you my concern…plz share your email id.

    Thank you

  16. Waqar Zaidi says:

    Hi Andreas Moser, i am on a blue card here in Germany. i applied for my family reunion visa in Pakistan and from last 10 months embassy is playing around. i was not aware about such legalization process. in this legalization process, German embassy Islamabad hire a lawyer and he checks and verifies documents in this verification process he takes 3 to 4 months. visit different centers and finaly meets applicants and ask questions. he also takes screenshots of whatsapp chat . i believe this is strictly against privacy. this legalization process is not forced on other countries. i am waiting for my family to join me here. i am paying 42% tax and still waiting for my kids and wife to meet me. can I lodge a case based on it. the embassy is still verifying document and they can object on anything and then it will keep on lingering. i need your advice.

    • That is very annoying indeed. Particularly when you have children, there shouldn’t be any question about the validity of your marriage.

      I have come across the same process in some countries in Africa and the German embassies try to justify it by stating that there are plenty of fake documents in such countries. Even if that’s the case, I don’t understand why the embassy needs to hire a third person – at your expense – to check those documents.

      Usually, if you haven’t received a decision on your application after 3 months, you can file a lawsuit. But that won’t necessarily speed things up.

  17. Waqar Zaidi says:

    the worst part is: when i came to Germany they did not ask about my birth certificate. when my family applied for reunion they are asking my birth certificate and I heard that German embassy knows that this document has process flaws. remember my word “process flaw” not fake document. so they can object to follow the correct process. if possible I am ready to follow a legal process consider a fair judgment will be done. what do you suggest? till now no response from Islamabad embassy.

  18. Waqar Zaidi says:

    Actually, in Pakistan, we have different union councils. Union council is like a Rathaus. so one city can have multiple union councils based on area. like my city has 10 UC offices in different areas. in Pakistan, people are not aware of the legal process of birth entry. so they go to any union council and get their birth registered. even UC do not bother because birth certificate is not an important document in Pakistan. embassy put an objection on such case, by saying, you have to follow the correct process, means you have to get it to register in right union council. so the already issued birth certificate has to be canceled first. for cancelation, a court order is required and in Pakistan courts take too much time. so embassy is intentionally playing around. The second problem is,in 80’s and 90’s people were not aware of birth certificates importance so they did not register their kids in UC. rather they will give the birthdates to schools at the time of admission, which will be used everywhere and once you have ID card your ID card is your identity. in Pakistan birth certificate had no significance. so those people who did not registered their child at that time in relevant UC, now have to follow LATE entry process which is complex. which includes medical and court order. UC people simply issue LATE entry birth certificate because the person already have a passport , ID card etc. but due to no compliance of process embassy put objection and you have to follow the right process. The lawyer go to UC and check manual register where entries are written. its too much verification kind of thing.

    • Thanks a lot for explaining this to me!
      Now I see why this could be (made) complicated.

      I honestly don’t understand why your birth certificate would be relevant. Nobody doubts your identity, otherwise you wouldn’t have received a residence permit for Germany.
      The only issue could be the birth certificates for your children if anybody doubts that they are really your children.

      I will only have time to look at your case in detail from May at the earliest, unfortunately. Let’s hope that things will have progressed by then. If not, you can always e-mail me at moser@moser-law.com, preferably with a link to this conversation.

      I am really sorry for what you are being put through.

  19. Waqar Zaidi says:

    Hi Anreas, there is one more point. Embassy is also entertaining students for family reunion. students who are on DAAD scholarship do not go through this long process. i dont know WTF is this DAAD but for them there is no legalization. can we make this a base to file a case that it is discrimination as a person giving 42% taxes is waiting from 10 months for his family to get visa whereas students are getting it without hassle. My case is still in progress on 20Nov-2018 we submitted documents in embassy till now ,today is 21-march-2019 , i dont know what is the update how much more time embassy will take. will they give visa or will they put objection i dont know. i such circumstances am i in position to put a case? if I follow legal process of case what are the chances of success?

    • For the sake of other readers, I should explain that 42% is only the highest marginal tax rate in Germany, not the effective tax rate.
      And the DAAD is the German Academic Exchange Service.

      Before filing a constitutional complaint, you need to file a lawsuit with the Administrative Court. Because I am not practising as an attorney in Germany anymore, I can’t really help with this.

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