Proceedings at the Federal Court of Justice
1. Civil cases
In civil cases, the remedy of appeal on points of law (Revision) is, in principle, available against final judgments passed by regional and higher regional courts acting as appellate courts. In practice, the possibility of lodging a "leapfrog appeal" against a first-instance judgment given by a regional court (in family proceedings: a local court) is very rarely used.
Appeal proceedings will only take place if the lower appellate court has granted leave to appeal in its judgment, or if allowed by the court of appeal following an appeal against refusal of leave to appeal. The appeal shall be allowed if the case is of fundamental legal importance, or if the development of the law or ensuring uniformity of the law calls for a decision by the court of appeal. The court of appeal is bound by the leave to appeal granted by the lower appellate court.
If the Panel holds that an appeal is inadmissible, it will be dismissed by judgment or order. In the other cases, a judgment on the appeal will be handed down following a hearing before the Panel.
2. Criminal cases
In criminal cases, the Federal Court of Justice will rule on appeals on points of law from judgments passed by the regional courts and higher regional courts of first instance. This includes serious ("capital") crimes tried before a regional court criminal division by a mixed bench of professional and lay judges, as well as any other criminal offences of a certain degree of severity if, at the time the charge was brought before the regional court, the public prosecutor’s office considered that a sentence of more than four years in prison, confinement in a psychiatric hospital or preventive detention was to be expected. Also included are any crimes against state security where in the first instance charges were brought before the state security division of a regional court or, as in proceedings against terrorist organisations, the criminal division of a higher regional court.
With an appeal on points of law, both the defendant and the public prosecutor's office can claim violation of a norm of substantive criminal law or procedural law. If the Panel unanimously considers an appeal to be manifestly unfounded or an appeal lodged for the benefit of the defendant to be well-founded, it may decide the case by court order without a hearing. In the other cases, a judgment on the appeal will be handed down following a hearing before the Panel.
3. The Referral Procedure
To ensure uniformity of the law, lawmakers provided for referral obligations for the higher regional courts in various types of proceedings (e.g. section 28 (2) FGG [Law on Non-contentious Jurisdiction]; section 79 (2) GBO [Land Register Code]; section 121 (2) GVG [Judicature Act]), leading to referral of a legal dispute to the Federal Court of Justice whenever a higher regional court wishes to deviate from the decision of another higher regional court or the Federal Court of Justice. However, going into the details of the procedure is not possible here.