Germany: Court orders disclosure of names of parties that take part in judicial cases

If a representative of the press requests information about the names of persons who participated in court proceedings, this request is to be granted regularly, decided the German Federal Administrative Court Bundesverwaltungsgericht (BVerwG) on 1 October 2014 (case no: 6 C 35.13).

Ingo Beckendorf

An editor of the German magazine “Anwaltsnachrichten Ausländer- und Asylrecht” (lawyer’s news aliens- and asylum law) asked the director of the local court in Nürtingen, to send him a copy of a criminal judgment regarding a minor. The court sent him an anonymized copy of the verdict, hiding the names of the judge, jury members, staff members of the prosecution, the defence lawyer and the registrar of the court’s registry.

Later, an official of the court informed the editor about the name of the regular judge, but he refused to tell him the names of the other participants of the trial. The editor filed a law suit at the court in Stuttgart against the court in Nürtingen for the disclosure of the names of the other participants of the trial. However, the court in Stuttgart dismissed the action in its entirety (Verwaltungsgericht - VG case no.: 1 K 57/12 from 28 April 2012).

The editor appealed against that decision and the court of appeals in Mannheim (Verwaltungsgerichtshof – VGH, case no.: 1 S 509/13 from 11 September 2013) partly decided in favour of the edotior. The VGH decided that the federal state Baden-Württemberg has to give the names of the jury members to the editor, but not the names of the other participants. According to the court, their constitutionally protected right to privacy outweighs the also constitutionally protected right of access to information of the press.

After this, the editor appealed against the VGH Mannheim’s decision to the BVerwG in Leipzig, as far as the decision didn’t grant him the disclosure of the names of the prosecutor, the defence lawyer, and the registrar of the Court’s registry. th. The judges of the BVerwG confirmed the editor’s claim for the disclosure regarding the prosecutor’s and the defence lawyer’s names. However, they dismissed the claim for disclosure of the registrar.

Within the balancing of the fundamental rights, the right of the press to receive and impart information outweighs the personal rights of these persons. As members of the legal profession and as staff of courts, the prosecutor and the defence lawyer stood in the focus of the public, stated the court. In the light of the high meaning of the principle of openness for a due process, the editor has a right to get informed about the names of the prosecutor and the defence lawyer. An exception would only be possible, if a lawyer who takespart in a trail had to fear for his safety or serious nuisances. However, this wasn’t  the case in the present proceedings, stressed the BVerwG.

The court justified its verdict by explaining, that press members should decide for themselves, which information they need for their investigation to report about a trial. The State is not allowed to influence that journalistic relevance-check, underlined the judges. However, a journalist has to explain his why he is interested in the names he is asking for. He needs to give a serious and factual reason for his request. If the request for the names is just a random shot for information, not based on a specific matter, the state, and therefore the court,is not obligated to reveal names of people who take part in trials. Therefore, the BVerwG dismissed the claim of the plaintiff regarding the disclosure of the name of the registrar. The focus of the public, interested in a trial, does not extend to the registrar. Furthermore, the editor did not give any reason why he was interested in the registrar’s name.

Ass. iur. Ingo Beckendorf works as a scientific researcher at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brüssel.

Read more

The verdict of the BVerwG is available in German here.