All government bodies are obliged to comply with the Basic Law. The structural principles of Germany’s constitutional jurisdiction can be described by the term “specialized” (cf. Kneip 2008). Specialized courts review state actions, for example. According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2009 – 2010, Germany’s judicial branch acts independently of influence by government members, citizens or companies (achieving a report score of 6.4 out of 7) (The Global Competitiveness report 2009 – 2010: 350). This remarkably high score is an expression of the significance of the judicial branch in Germany. Judicial independence on all levels is secured by the Basic Law. In addition to the Federal Constitutional Court, there are five supreme federal courts in Germany: the Federal Court of Justice as the highest court for civil and criminal jurisdiction, the Federal Administrative Court, the Federal Finance Court, the Federal Labor Court, and the Federal Social Court. This division of tasks guarantees highly specialized independent courts with manageable workloads, and thus fulfills the requirement of a differentiated organization. Professionalism is generally secured by well-established procedures for legal education, although the system’s scholastic backwardness and reluctance to agree upon Europe-wide education standards is sometimes subject to criticism (Zeit 2009). Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court (FCC), which is not subject to supervision by any ministry, has extensive powers (Kneip 2008: 646). The FCC ensures that all state institutions obey the Basic Law and act particularly to apply the fundamental rights. The court acts only when an appeal has been made, but can declare a law unconstitutional and has exercised this right several times. In case of conflicting opinions, the decision made by the FCC is final; all other governmental and legislative institutions are bound to comply with its verdict. The FCC’s most important procedures are as follows: If a measure, administrative body action, court verdict or law is believed to infringe a fundamental right, anyone can lodge a constitutional complaint. In addition, courts, the federal government, a state government or one-third of the members of the Bundestag can file a complaint if they consider a statute to be unconstitutional. Furthermore, the Federal Constitutional Court adjudicates in cases of constitutional dispute regarding mutual constitutional rights, the duties of constitutional bodies, or between the federal government and the federal states. In such cases, only the federal president, the Bundestag, the Bundesrat or the federal government can appeal.
The work of the FCC thus has tremendous political implications. For example, the court instructed the parliament to ensure that the Bundestag and the Bundesrat had sufficient participation rights in European lawmaking and treaty amendment procedures. In another ruling, the FCC decided that provisions concerning the standard social benefits did not comply with constitutional requirements. The justices unanimously criticized the method of calculating the subsistence minimum benefit payment as insufficiently precise. Hence, the FCC ordered a revision of the so–called Hartz IV legislation by the end of 2010.
In 2008 and 2009, a total of 12,886 new cases were brought forward (for annotated figures, see website of the Federal Constitutional Court). Two of these were concerned with complaints regarding electoral proceedings, eight dealt with constitutional disputes between federal bodies, two involved review of statutes after application by a constitutional body, 80 reviewed statutes following judicial referral, 241 were temporary injunctions and 12,553 were constitutional complaints. In the judicial year 2009, a total of 128 constitutional complaints were lodged against sovereign acts of federal, federal state or European Union authorities. While these figures indicate that most of the cases heard were appeals against judicial decisions or legal provisions, it is also obvious that the supreme institution of the judicial branch controls whether government and administration act in conformity with the law.
If there are problems with the courts monitoring the rule of law these are related to resources and the duration of processes. The courts are overloaded, which leads among other problems to lengthy proceedings. In 2008, 43% of proceedings in front of the administrative courts were concluded within six months and 65% within 12 months. However, the differentiation of proceedings, allowing for urgent decisions, guarantees that these problems do not affect the power of the FCC to effectively oversee public administrative and legislative compliance with the Basic Law.