The Federal Social Court and social jurisdiction
- The structure of the courts in the Federal Republic of Germany and Europe
- Social jurisdiction
- Federal Social Court
- The Federal Social Court building
The structure of the courts in the Federal Republic of Germany and Europe
According to the constitution it is clear that the administration of justice represents an independent state power, which stands alongside legislature and executive authority. The principle of the division of powers derived from Article 20 paragraph 2 of the Basic Law serves to diversify political power and thus moderate State control.
According to Article 92 of the Basic Law, judges are invested with judicial powers exercised by the Federal Constitutional Court, the Federal Courts envisaged in the constitution or Basic Law and the courts of the federal states (Länder). In accordance with Article 95 paragraph 1 of the Basic Law, the Federal Government established as the highest courts in the country the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe, the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, the Federal Finance Court in Munich, the Federal Labour Court in Erfurt and Federal Social Court in Kassel.
This corresponds to the five independent branches of the law:
- ordinary jurisdiction (civil and criminal) consisting of district courts, regional courts, higher regional courts and the Federal Court of Justice;
- administrative jurisdiction consisting of administrative courts, higher administrative courts and the Federal Administrative Court;
- financial jurisdiction with financial courts and the Federal Finance Court;
- labour jurisdiction with labour courts, regional labour courts and the Federal Labour Court;
- social jurisdiction with social courts, higher social courts and the Federal Social Court.
Financial and social courts can be regarded as special administrative courts: Like the (general) administrative courts, they decide on public law disputes of a non-constitutional nature. This typically concerns lawsuits in which citizens try to assert their entitlement to social assistance or oppose official rulings.
Federal Constitutional Court
The Federal Constitutional Court was established in 1951 in Karlsruhe and occupies a special position being tasked with ensuring that the constitution is complied with. The Federal Constitutional Court cannot be appealed to as an additional appellte court. It checks court judgements - within the context of a constitutional complaint - to determine whether the court’s decision, possibly also the legal norms it is based on, conflict with the constitution and whether the individual‘s constitutional rights have thus been violated.
The Court of Justice of the European Union
The European Court of Justice established in 1952 is domiciled in Luxembourg and as the European Union’s judicial organ is responsible for the interpretation of the laws of the European Union, and ensures uniformity across member states. In addition, the Court of Justice can rule on legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions. Private persons, companies or organisation can also turn to the Court of Justice with a legal matter if they feel that a European Union organ has violated their rights.
Included in the courts of the European Union are also the Court of the European Union (Court of the First Instance) formed in 1989 and the Court for Public Services created in 2005.
In order to prevent individual member states interpreting European legal provisions differently, the concept of "preliminary reference" was introduced. Should a national court have doubts about the interpretation or validity of a legal provision of the European Union, as the decision-making court of last resort it can - and must - consult the Court of Justice. This advice is issued in the form of a "preliminary reference".
European Court of Justice for Human Rights
Based on the European Human Rights Convention, the European Court of Justice for Human Rights was established in 1959 with domicile in Strasbourg. It reviews judicial, legislative and executive acts in signature states relating to violations of the civil and political rights laid down in the Convention.
The 47 members of the European Council have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. Every citizen has the right of appeal to the Court of Justice if one of their rights under the Convention has been violated.
The Social Court Act dated 3 September 1953 (Federal Law Gazette part I, page 1239) came into force on 1 January 1954. The inauguration of the Federal Social Court took place on 23 March 1955 when the first public session was held.
Before legislation establishing the Social Court Act, there were no independent courts with jurisdiction for the legal areas that today are allocated to social legislation. The German Reich’s Board of Social Insurance (Reichsversicherungsamt), founded in 1848 as the highest instance for social security matters is often regarded as the forerunner of the Federal Social Court. During its existence until 1945, the Board not only dealt with administrative matters, but was also and specifically given a judicial function. The highest instance for the important area of supporting victims of war in those days was the Reich’s welfare courts formed at the German Reich’s Board of Social Insurance.
Even in the post-war period, legal disputes in the field of social security were still dealt with by administrative authorities for several years, in particular, by the upper insurance agencies. It was only the Social Court Act that ensured uniform application and development of the law through independent courts with judges only bound by the rule of law. Since then the preconditions required by today’s interpretation of the constitution have been met and ensure that citizens receive the full legal protection constitutionally enshrined in Article 19 paragraph 4 of the Basic Law.
After German reunification on 3 October 1990, independent courts with social jurisdiction (Social Courts, Higher Social Courts) were established in all new Länder, while the Federal Social Court is the highest instance for the whole of Germany.
Competence of social jurisdiction
The competence of social jurisdiction and the Federal Social Court is precisely regulated by law. They are especially responsible for the following areas jointly also called "social security matters":
- statutory pension plan
- statutory accident insurance
- statutory health insurance
- long-term care insurance
- social security for artists
- panel doctor/dentist rights
- tasks of the Federal Labour Office (in addition to unemployment insurance, for example also insolvency substitute benefits)
- basic income for job seekers
- social welfare and Asylum Seekers Benefits Act
- social compensation for health impairment, including support for victims of war, support for soldiers, indemnification for vaccine-induced disabilities, compensation for victims of violence and certain matters under the Disabilities Act
- other government transfers (child allowance/parental benefits)
The factual jurisdiction of the social courts thus covers essential areas of the statutory social security system in the Federal Republic of Germany.
Courts with social jurisdiction
The courts are independent and separate especially from the administrative authorities. Social jurisdiction is - like administrative jurisdiction but unlike financial jurisdiction - organised into three instances. Courts with social jurisdiction in the Länder are Social Courts and Higher Social Courts. The highest court of justice with social jurisdiction in Germany is the Federal Social Court.
In principle, Social Courts rule in the first instance. The Social Court is a court of substance and examines the disputed matter in terms of law and facts. Accordingly, it also conducts investigations itself, in particular, by calling witnesses and obtaining medical expert reports. This investigation must be conducted officially and without submissions or suggestions from the participants in the case.
Higher Social Courts
When a judgement pronounced by a social court is appealed, the Higher Social Court makes the ruling. The appeal court is also a court of facts like the court of the first instance.
Federal Social Court
Aside from its competence as the first instance for certain disputes that exist in exceptional cases, the Federal Social Court rules as the final resort on appeals against judgements pronounced by a higher social court. Under certain circumstances, Social Court judgements can be appealed directly in the Federal Social Court (so-called "leap-frog appeals"). As a matter of principle, the Federal Social Court only decides on points of law, so contrary to the Social and Higher Social Courts, the Federal Social Court does not grant temporary legal protection. The Federal Social Court also has no competence in proceedings of temporary legal protection.
Many years of experience have shown that about 10% of all disputes referred to a particular instance on appeal proceed to the next higher instance of social jurisdiction.
Composition of the decision-making bodies (panels)
In all three instances of social jurisdiction and thus also in the Federal Social Court lay judges contribute to passing the judgement.
Judgements passed by Social Courts are usually pronounced by a chamber with one professional and two lay judges, while those in Higher Social Courts and the Federal Social Court by a panel including three professional and two lay judges.
In cases heard by Social and Higher Social Courts, participants do not have to be represented by an attorney. They can lead their own defence but are free to instruct an attorney.
When appearing before the Federal Social Court, the participants must be represented by an attorney ("mandatory representation"). Here all attorneys admitted to the bar of a German court as well as law lecturers at a state or state accredited university in a member country can be considered. In addition, trade union representatives, employer associations and legal representation associations also qualify. Their statutory task must consist mainly of representing the interests of society as well as consulting and representing the beneficiaries in line with the social and disabled compensation code. These organisations must act through people with the qualification for judicial office.
Exempted from this mandatory representation are, among others, public authorities and legal persons under public law who may act through employees qualified to take judicial office.
Proceedings before the courts with social jurisdiction of all instances and thus also the Federal Social Court are free of legal costs for citizens filing a suit (or being sued) as insured parties, recipients of other benefits or disabled persons; excluded from this are disputes that lead to excessively long court proceedings. Other complainants and respondents, however, must pay flat-rate legal fees (for proceedings Social Courts: 150 Euro, Higher Social Courts: 225 Euro, Federal Social Court: 300 Euro). This also applies if the ruling is in their favour. Legal fees charged according to the value of disputes, also common in other judicial branches, apply to proceedings where no insured or similar entity is involved (such as legal disputes between service providers or matters concerning panel doctors).
Out-of-court cost, on the other hand, that accrue especially when appointing an attorney must generally be borne by the losing party; the winner’s out-of-court costs are usually imposed on the losing party. This is different with regard to public authorities, whose expenses are never reimbursed.
A needy party that cannot bear the costs of a lawsuit will receive legal aid on request if the proceedings are not frivolous and there is a good chance of winning the case. The costs of the attorney of record are then either borne completely by the state treasury or the party is granted instalment payments depending on their income situation.
Federal Social Court
Function and tasks of the Federal Social Court
As in the case of other Federal Courts, the Federal Social Court acts as an appeal court only on points of law.
In legal proceedings before the Federal Social Court it is therefore basically unimportant whether, for example, the ruling being appealed is based on the wrong interpretation of a medical report, whether a witness made a false statement or the Higher Social Court extracted something from the court file which was not contained in it in such a form. This is because the Federal Social Court is bound to the actual findings made in the judgement being appealed. Alternatives only apply if the Higher Social Court makes procedural errors in its actual findings. However, these must then also be contestable in the legal process before the Federal Social Court and contested in the proper form. The Federal Social Court cannot conduct its own fact findings in the appeal process. It cannot, for example, call witnesses. If the case cannot be ruled on the basis of the findings actually available, the legal dispute must be referred back to the previous instance for a new trial and ruling.
Significance of Federal Social Court rulings
As a matter of principle, the legal validity of a Federal Social Court judgement only applies to the participants in the respective case. Generally, administrative authorities that have to decide on numerous similar cases are involved in appeals heard by the Federal Social Court. Despite not being legally binding, the rulings of the Federal Social Court thus often actually form a guideline for the decisions that administrative authorities make in similar cases. This also essentially contributes to the fact that important decisions made by the Federal Social Court are published in law reports, professional journals and social security organisation publications. In addition, the Federal Social Court informs the public by reporting all court dates on its website (www.bundessozialgericht.de). Furthermore, up-to-date judgement transcripts for the current year and the previous 5 years are made available.
Among other rulings in recent times, court panels have decided that
- within the complex process of allocations from the health fund (in 2010 more than Euro 170 billion), healthcare companies have no entitlement to higher allocations,
- tied attorneys (so-called "corporate counsel") are not entitled to exemption from the insurance obligation contained in statutory pension provisions,
- successor’s pension paid to the surviving wife by a statutory accident insurance can also be paid out when treatment of the long-term comatose husband is stopped,
- statutory accident insurance during company events (such as Christmas parties) that are held by management or with their approval as their own is valid,
- rental fees for a cello used at school are not benefits included in educational or participation packages,
- there are no constitutional objections to digital data matching among job centres and the Federal Central Tax Office to determine capital gains,
- the payment of child allowances to unaccompanied minors or orphaned refugee children who have already been living in Germany for a long time and cannot be deported because they possess the necessary residence permit, may not be conditional on gainful employment,
- unemployable disabled adults who receive subsistence grants or basic old-age and reduced earning capacity benefits and live with both parents or one parent, have a claim to maintenance benefits at requirement level 1 (100%),
- supplying a wig is not part of the statutory health insurance service package especially not to an older man,
- the entitlement to a knee brace (propelled by muscle power) ("CAM brace") enabling independent therapy and to modern continuous blood sugar monitoring instruments ("Continous Glucose Monitoring System") in the context of medical treatment depends on a positive recommendation from the German Joint Government Committee (G-BA),
- preliminary ruling proceedings will be initiated at the European Court of Justice on the question to what extent EU citizens residing in Germany as job seekers can be excluded from social benefits.
Access to the Court of Appeal
The duty of the Federal Social Courts is above all to secure legal uniformity and the development of the law and accordingly access to appeal courts is restricted. An appeal is only admissible if leave to appeal was expressly granted in the judgement of the Higher Social Court (or a leap-frog version of the judgement of the Social Court) or is granted by the Federal Social Court in response to a refusal of leave to appeal.
In 2014 about 70% of all appeals received by the Federal Social Court were granted by Higher Social Courts, 12% (as leap-frog appeals) from the Social Courts; about 18% of appeals were granted by the Federal Social Court on the basis of refusals of leave to appeal.
Leave to appeal is only granted if
- the legal matter has fundamental significance, in other word it addresses unresolved legal issues and its significance goes beyond the individual case or
- the judgement made by the previous instance deviates from a decision of the Federal Social Court, the Joint Panel of the Supreme Courts of the federal government or the Federal Constitutional Court or
- a procedural irregularity is asserted that impacts on the result (this reason for appeal is only considered for refusals of leave to appeal); not all procedural irregularities can be asserted; the asserted procedural irregularity can only be based on a violation of the official duty to investigate the facts if it relates to an application to produce evidence which the Higher Social Court did not follow without giving sufficient justification.
Experience has shown that if the appeal has not yet been granted by a Social or Higher Social Court, an appeal to the Federal Social Court against refusal of leave to appeal presents a hurdle that can be difficult to overcome. So for example in 2014 only about 6% of applications against refusal of leave to appeal were granted.
A complaint against refusal of leave to appeal submitted by the attorney on record must describe the reasons raised against the appeal precisely, comprehensively and according to certain rules in order to be admissible in the first place. It is only justified if the grounds for appeal actually exist. If the procedural irregularity does not actually exist or had no influence on the result of the judgement being appealed, the complaint against refusal of leave to appeal is rejected for being unjustified. Then there will also be no appeal proceedings.
Development of the judicial functions
When the Federal Social Court started its public sessions in March 1955, there were about 1,000 appeals pending. 2,280 new appeals were received in the same year. By 1964 the number of new appeals had risen to about 3,000 per annum with certain fluctuations. Then the number of new appeals dropped to about 2,000 in 1974, essentially due to the reduction of issues regarding the care of victims of war.
A fundamental up-date of the law on appeals in 1975 led to a permanent restructuring of the types of proceedings. The number of new appeals dropped noticeably: from about 2,000 per annum in 1974 to about 1,000 in 1975. This reduction, however, was counterbalanced by the receipt of appeals against the refusal of leave to appeal (1975: 1,151). Thereafter for many years, new appeals and complaints against non-allowance were received at a ratio of 1 to 2.
Over recent years the proportion of appeals against refusal of leave to appeal rose steadily. From 2010 to 2014, an average of about 480 appeals and about 2,080 appeals against refusal of leave to appeal were received every year.
Organisation of the Federal Social Court
The Federal Social Court is led by a President who holds a special legal position. On the one hand, he is the supervisor of the judges, civil servants and salaried employees at the Federal Social Court. In this function he exercises among other things administrative supervision of judges, however, only within the limits arising from judicial independence. On the other hand, he is a judge, who holds the chair on an expert panel and in addition by law that of the Great Panel, Executive Committee and Presidential Council.
Since 1 January 2008, Peter Masuch has been the President of the Federal Social Court. Dr. Rainer Schlegel (Prof) has been the Vice-President since July 2014.
Former Presidents of the Federal Social Court: Dr. Joseph Schneider, September 1954 to October 1968; Dr. Georg Wannagat (Prof), November 1968 to June 1984; Dr. Heinrich Reiter (Prof), July 1984 to August 1995; Dr. Matthias von Wulffen, September 1995 to December 2007.
Expert panels are established to ensure that the judicial tasks at the Federal Social Court are performed. These decide on the appeals with in principle five members including the chairman, three of which are professional judges. In addition, two lay judges are always included.
The expert panels are each tasked with certain matters of social security through the distribution-of-business plan and allocated to the judges as well as the lay judges. The distribution-of-business plan is always drawn up by an executive committee selected from the panel of judges at the start of each calendar year for its duration.
The Federal Social Court was inaugurated in 1953 with 10 panels. Currently there are 14.
The Grand Panel
Like in all federal supreme courts, there is also a Grand Panel in the Federal Social Court which decides in cases where a panel wants to deviate from the decision made by another panel or by the Grand Panel concerning a question of law, or one panel calls on the Grand Panel regarding a question of fundamental importance because in its view this is necessary for the development of law or securing legal uniformity. The Grand Panel consists of the President and a professional judge from each panel where the President is not the chairman. In addition, there are at least six lay judges.
Judges appointed to the Federal Social Court
At the beginning of its activities in 1954, the Federal Social Court had 24 permanent posts for professional judges. In view of the changing case loads, the number of judges has fluctuated over the years. As of 1 August 2015 there are 43 permanent posts for judges (President, Vice President, 10 presiding judges, 31 judges).
Professional Federal Social Court judges must be 36 years or older. The judges’ selection code specifies that they are to be elected by the judge election board and then appointed by the Federal President. Half the members of the judge election board are social jurisdiction ministers (or senators) of the respective state and the other half are appointed through election by the Bundestag.
Only in social and labour jurisdiction do lay judges also participate in reaching a verdict in the court of the last instance. Their participation in expert chambers (Social Courts) or expert panels (Higher Social Courts and the Federal Social Court) is important in order to involve and anchor social jurisdiction in civil society, and also for scenarios in which aside from legal questions, actual complex cases are dealt with (for example when judging work accidents and work-related illnesses, or categorising new treatment methods in the health insurances).
Like the professional judges, the lay judges acting in the Federal Social Court may not be younger than 36 and must have regularly participated in a social or a higher social court for at least five years. When decisions are being made their voice carries the same weight as that of professional judges.
Lay judges are generally appointed for five years by the Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs on the basis of nomination lists from trade unions, independent associations of employees with socio-political and occupational objectives, employer associations, associations of state health service doctors and dentists as well as the health insurance groupings. For lay judges on the panel responsible for matters of the social compensation and disabled codes, the highest administrative authorities of the federal states and beneficiary associations pursuant to the social compensation code and associations of the disabled are entitled to submit nominations if their influence extends across Germany and they have a certain number of members. Lay judges participating in the panel responsible for social assistance and the Asylum Seekers Benefit Act are appointed on the basis of nomination lists from districts and independent towns.
Just as for the Social and Higher Social Courts, there is also a committee of lay judges. It is composed of seven members elected by the lay judges. The committee must be heard in advance of the formation of panels, the distribution of business and before lay judges are allocated to panels.
The expert panels at the Federal Social Court are supported by scientific co-workers from the various federal states. As a rule, scientific co-workers are qualified Social Court judges, who are generally seconded to the Federal Social Court for two years. Their main function is to support the Federal Social Court judges with preparatory work, in particular, by compiling votes and examining individual questions of law.
The administration of the Federal Social Court is the administrative manager’s responsibility and comprises central division, business unit, information technology as well as the scientific service, library and document office. In addition, judicial subject specialists are appointed for special tasks, especially a presidential advisor and press officer.
The Central Division makes personnel and equipment available to the entire operation of the Federal Social Court and organises business processes, providing the central services of the court administration.
The Central Division is divided into the following areas: "presidential administrative tasks", "personnel management", "personnel development", "press and publicity work", "equality", "audit jobandfamily", "social matters", "budget", "organisation", "allocation office", "contract matters", "internal service" as well as "property and building management".
The Federal Social Court employs (as of August 2015) a total of 216 people (43 judges, 10 scientific co-workers, 68 civil servants, 89 employees subject to wage negotiations and 6 apprentices).
Funds required for personnel and material expenses are allocated to the Federal Social Court within the budget framework via its own budget chapter (1115) in the individual budget plan of the Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs.
The administrative office of the Federal Social Court is divided into three service units which are staffed by civil servants and salaried employees.
Service units are responsible for the proper and appropriate course of business of the panel allocated to them. Their tasks include supporting judges in their judicial duties and editing judicial decisions, taking minutes of verbal negotiations, registrations and certifications as well as taking care of the necessary written work.
The IT department is responsible for equipping the workplaces with proper functional hard- and software as well as for the proper operation of the local network, central facilities in the data centre and lines of communication with the outside world, while adhering to the requirements of IT security. In addition, it assists court members with all problems connected to the use of IT. Particularly important is the adaptation of existing IT processes to changing technology and the introduction of new IT-supported work processes especially in electronic communication (electronic legal communication) and electronic filing.
Concomitant with the establishment of the Federal Social Court in 1954, the library was created as a specialised judicial library to provide literature to judges as well as scientific co-workers at the Federal Social Court. In principle, it is open to the public and is used by judges and particularly also by scientists at the University of Kassel with which there is close cooperation. Through extensive acquisitions, an annual addition of about 3,000 volumes led to a total stock of about 169,500 volumes by the end of 2014, among these about 290 current loose-leaf publications, 560 current periodicals and about 600 social security provider statutes.
All areas of social legislation aim at an acquisition that is as complete and continuous as possible. The extensive stock of specialised legal periodicals that can be consulted at any time should be highlighted. To round off the stock of social legislation works, related areas (for example labour law, social sciences) are specifically incorporated. There is basic and standard literature relating to nearly all other legal areas.
The historical stock comes almost exclusively from the German Reich’s Board of Social Insurance in Berlin which was dissolved in 1954. In this regard, the library experienced an impressive growth when it inherited almost 20,000 volumes from the Reich’s Board. Included here is rare literature that former lower instances could not afford. Many of the old works are no longer available in any other library today.
An information centre with two permanent attendants and 26 reading stations is available to users. The majority of the literature is freely accessible. Visitors from outside are welcome and may be granted regular use, provided there is enough space. The Federal Social Court library is purely a reference library.
The entire stock has been captured electronically and can be researched using the online catalogue in the library. For this purpose, a computer is available to visitors. The library frequently sells selected specialist books from its stock which are mainly out-dated editions of texts and commentaries.
The sphere of activities of the Federal Social Court’s document office includes internal services and the preparation of documents for data inventory on the Federal Republic of Germany’s Judicial Information System (juris). The services are predominately used by judges as well as scientific co-workers to support them in their judicial function. However, they are also available to non-judicial court employees and in part to the public.
The document office’s internal services mainly comprise the creation of information services and pending legal questions in the Federal Social Court, communicating information and producing special data compilations. The information on legal questions regarding appeals pending in the Federal Social Court supplied by the document office can be accessed on the website of the Federal Social Court (www.bundessozialgericht.de). In addition, the document office prepares judgements, literature and administrative regulations for juris; this information is available to Federal Social Court judges for research purposes via this link.
Press and public relations work
Schedule preview and report
The expert panels at the Federal Social Court report on all upcoming hearings and decisions beforehand with the schedule preview, which can be downloaded on the Federal Social Court’s website (www.bundessozialgericht.de). Immediately after the hearings, information on the decisions taken by the Federal Social Court in the sessions is made available. The schedule previews are usually published seven to ten days before every session and contain a short description of the cases being decided. The schedule reports give the participants information on the results after every ruling or in the event of a decision without verbal proceedings after the judgement has been delivered.
Schedule indicators and media information
The Federal Social Court makes special schedule indicators available to the press which inform the public in advance of hearing dates that are particularly important or interesting to the public. The schedule indicator contains a summary the upcoming legal question being decided on, its practical relevance and the facts it is based on.
The Federal Social Court communicates the result of interesting proceedings and important events through separate press releases. Should the press release report on decisions taken by the Federal Social Court, the facts and the main reasons for the decision are presented and actual and legal backgrounds of the case may be explained for better understanding.
Schedule indicators and media information as well as schedule previews and reports are, however, not official Federal Social Court publications but primarily work documents for media representatives.
In the spring of every year, the Federal Social Court issues a report on its previous year’s activities. Aside from statistics, the activity report also contains contextual information on court judgements.
Annual press conference
The activity report is presented during the traditional annual press conference serving not only to communicate the object and extent of Federal Social Court judgements over the previous year, but also to discuss current pending problems regarding social law and social policies.
The website "www.bundessozialgericht.de" offers visitors access to diverse information about the Federal Social Court such as business distribution, questions of law, rulings and the media.
On the website under "Press" the schedule indicators and media information can be downloaded and while "Schedule" contains the schedule previews and reports. The offer is supplemented under "Decision" by free access to the complete text and - if available - the guiding principles of Federal Social Court decisions in the current and the last five years. Older decisions and decisions for commercial purposes can be obtained from the Court‘s dispatch office for a fee.
The Federal Social Court offers up-dated RSS feeds for all schedule previews and reports, media information as well as all decisions recently made available on the website.
The Federal Social Court building
The Federal Social Court building is a place of jurisprudence and encounters, but at the same time also a symbol of Germany‘s chequered history.
Built during National Socialism as a monumental symbol of their claim to power, and envisaged as the seat of the German Chancellor and Federal Government during Kassel’s bid to become the capital of post-war Germany, the building has been a centre for upholding democratic values since the middle of the 1950s. Here independent jurisdiction is exercised in the service of the social constitutional state.
During renovating and extending the group of buildings in 2008 and 2009, the architectural past was united with the present. Within 22 months, the old building was subjected to complete renovation by removing deficient features and replacing them with modern building standards. Due to functional and heritage protection requirements, a structure separate from the old building was erected in the inner court to house the Federal Social Court’s main courtroom. With its organic and free design, the new courtroom – named after Elisabeth Selbert – creates a great contrast to the power architecture of the 1930s. In contrast to the symmetrical and square style of the historical building, the oval architecture aims to symbolise a free way of thinking and living.
Situated in "Vorderer Westen" a district of the city of Kassel on the border of "Bad Wilhelmshöhe", the entire group of buildings surrounded by green space is a protected monument for historical, artistic and town-planning reasons.
The monumental group of buildings erected for military district purposes in the period from 1935 to 1938 was constructed in the neo-classical style around a square inner court as a four-wing complex with an extended north wing. Due to the sloping terrain of a former stream, the building had to be anchored on 1,250 concrete pillars. On the south side towards Wilhelmshöher Allee, it is four storeys high and on the Regentenstrasse side five storeys. The plaster façades above the rustic base level are divided by sandstone walls and pilaster strips.
The historical building had two entrances embodying the Nazi’s claim to power with their monumental architecture: On the east side towards the Graf-Bernadotte-Platz, was a column portal with an exterior stairway, two monumental sculptures and a triple internal marble staircase and the former hall of flags on the south side with an outdoor commemorative courtyard and colonnades.
Hardly damaged during the Second World War, the extensive building was used by the Americans as their headquarters and "general hospital" from April 1945. In 1947 the building together with its medical facilities were handed over to the city of Kassel, which then used it exclusively for civil purposes - as "Stadtkrankenhaus Wilhelmshöhe".
After the hospitals were destroyed in Kassel during the war had been reconstructed and the "Krankenhaus" closed down, the border patrol commando west moved into the building in 1951 as the main occupant.
In May 1954, the Federal Labour Court and in September 1954 the Federal Social Court commenced work in the former "General commando". During this period the interior of the building was renovated for court purposes.
In 1999 the Federal Border Guard headquarters were moved to Fuldatal and the Federal Labour Court was relocated to a new building in Erfurt. Since then only the Federal Social Court has been using the property.
For years it had already been obvious that defects to the building itself and the lack of technical infrastructure resulting from its age required fundamental renovation and modernisation of the entire property. Technical wear and tear, water damage, fire prevention problems, blocked external stairways were all signs of its condition. The dilapidated desolate natural stone cladding and falling plaster made protective measures necessary on a number of the building’s sections.
After testing various alternatives to functionally house the Federal Social Court, the building application to modernise the property in Graf-Bernadotte-Platz in Kassel was approved in early 2006 and the project published throughout Europe according to the German regulations for contracts and execution of freelance services (VOF).
Planning work already began in December 2006 when the community of architects from the Weimar architectural offices Junk & Reich Architekten BDA, Planungsgesellschaft mbH and Hartmann + Helm Planungsgesellschaft mbH were commissioned.
After the design documents for the building were approved and the contract was awarded in September 2007, the conditions were given for a Europe-wide tender for the building work.
After intensive planning and coordination, building started on 18 February 2008. A construction site measuring 21,200 m² and the tight building schedule with completion planned for December 2009 presented the planning and supervising team with a challenge. At times, this meant organising up to 250 construction workers in a process ranging from hiring over coordinating the building process and the interdependent work right up to the defect-free approval, while protecting completed parts as well as possible. Additional problems had to be overcome, for example, development issues of the original building, disguised war damage, load-bearing problems and obstacles on the building terrain as well as extreme weather conditions in the winter of 2008/2009. During construction, the former Federal Labour Court building and a three-story container office complex served as alternative quarters.
From 7 to 14 December 2009, the Federal Social Court moved back into the modernised and renovated court building. On 15 December 2009, the new courtroom in the inner courtyard was used for the inaugural meeting of the 1st panel.
The new main entrance
The south entrance is the new main entrance to the building. On the same level, you reach the new entrance foyer from Graf-Bernadotte-Platz. The former hall of flags was given a completely new character for this function. The back wall was removed and replaced with glass. Right here is also the entrance to the main courtroom. The modern design of the foyer matches the historical natural stone cladding while the illuminated ceiling enhances the impression of modernity.
The new main courtroom
Named after the Kassel lawyer and politician, Elisabeth Selbert, the new main courtroom is the heart of the modernised and renovated court building. Situated at the end of the new traffic artery from Wilhemshöher Allee, the building presents a visual example of the contemporary treatment of former military buildings. It is a symbol of the new content, namely social jurisdiction. Thanks to its location close to the main entrance, the courtroom is easily accessible for participants in proceedings and for visitors.
The newly designed functional areas
The functional areas in the Federal Social Court have been completely restructured because of the functional relationship of the areas to one another, questions of safety, structural considerations for different departments as well as economic and technical considerations regarding the spatial arrangement.
The existing courtroom in the old building (today Jacob-Grimm-Hall) was modernised and a second courtroom (today Weißenstein-Hall) was incorporated into the structure of the old building based on the same principle. The big meeting hall (today Bernadotte-Hall) was also modernised and meeting rooms of different types and sizes were incorporated into the court building.
A large part of the 1st lower level and the rooms on the ground floor house the new central library. This involved complicated statistical retrofitting to increase the load capacity.
All office rooms were completely renovated and redesigned in accordance with current requirements regarding soundproofing, ergonomics and contemporary information and communication technology.
Close to the entrance area, a new cafeteria with proper kitchen facilities was built, which is also open to the public.