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East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany

The Court System

The court system is similar to that of the Soviet Union and, in its basic structure, shows clear roots in the Napoleonic Code, which underlies many of the legal systems of continental Europe. The Napoleonic Code differs in two ways from Anglo-Saxon law: it does not subscribe to the adversary system, and it does not recognize common law or precedent. In reference to the adversary system, the prosecutor in an East German court is responsible for presenting all the evidence, both for and against defendants, and the judge reaches a decision based upon this presentation. A defense attorney, if present, is subordinate to the prosecutor and serves only to ensure that the presentation is balanced. The judge is bound only by law as written in the statute books. The judge interprets the law as it applies to the specific case, and that interpretation, since it is unique, sets no precedent for other judges.

The court system is subordinate to the legislative branch, the People's Chamber. The Supreme Court is the highest court and establishes the jurisdiction of subordinate courts. Under the Supreme Court are district, regional, and social courts. District courts generally try major cases occurring within their geographic jurisdiction. District prosecutors, appointed by the general prosecuting attorney, present the cases in district courts. Regional courts normally try minor cases occurring within their geographic jurisdiction. As is the case in the district courts, judges in regional courts are appointed by the Supreme Court, and the regional prosecutor is appointed by the general prosecuting attorney. District courts and district prosecutors have no authority over regional courts or regional prosecutors. The court system also includes social courts of nonjudicial members established within enterprises and cooperatives for the purpose of enforcing labor discipline or moral behavior. These courts, patterned on the Soviet people's courts, are quasi-legal institutions that give voice to mass social pressure on nonconforming persons. Although they are, in the strict sense of the word, extralegal, they have been placed under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, ostensibly to prevent excesses.

There is also a separate military justice system, created in 1962 with the passage of the Military Criminal Law. In 1979 the jurisdiction of the military courts was greatly expanded, a reflection of increasing concern with law and order in all spheres of society. As in the case of the other courts, military prosecutors and military courts come under the final authority of the Supreme Court and the general prosecuting attorney. Military courts, however, are administered by the Main Department for Military Courts, and military prosecutors are administered by the military attorney general. Under this central umbrella, there are military courts and attorneys for the various arms of service, military districts, and formations of the NVA. Military courts exercise jurisdiction over both military personnel and civilians. The judges are NVA officers with law degrees. Military personnel may be tried for either military or civilian offenses. Civilians, at the direction of the Supreme Court, may be tried in military courts for the capital offenses of treason, espionage, and sabotage.

Data as of July 1987