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English speaking German Courts – the Chambers for International Commercial Matters

When it comes to cross-border litigation, the parties often choose international arbitration courts to decide the case. Arbitration clauses are in many cases already provided for in the respective contracts. One of the reasons for this preference is that the language of the proceedings of an arbitration tribunal can be chosen by the parties – and is, in most cases, English. The disadvantages of arbitration, in particular the often much higher cost and the lack of control of decisions by a second instance, appear minor in comparison to the big advantage for the parties to use the English language before the tribunal, the language in which the relevant contracts were negotiated and drafted, and in which out-of-court discussions were held. Especially the German courts in the last decades lost ground in competition with arbitration tribunals and, for example, the London courts, because the use of the German language in court was mandatory. This is now about to change with the introduction of chambers for international commercial matters in certain German courts before which English may be used as well. As of January 1, 2018, the first chamber for international commercial matters (Kammer für internationale Handelssachen) was established at the Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main, Germany, followed by similar chambers in Hamburg, Stuttgart and Mannheim and most recently in 2021 at the Berlin Regional Court. 

Experience from hearings before the chamber for international commercial matters in Frankfurt shows that the attractiveness of Germany as a place of jurisdiction increases with the introduction of English-speaking civil and commercial chambers.

The prerequisite for a referral to the chamber for international commercial matters is, above all, the existence of a commercial case with an international context. Also, by the end of the time limit for filing a statement of defense, both parties must declare unanimously that they wish to conduct the oral proceedings in English and waive the need for an interpreter. 

Thus, a request for referral to the chamber for international commercial matters is particularly fitting for disputes in which English is the language of correspondence between the parties and/or where contracts have been drafted in English, such as e.g. in international corporate transactions. It goes without saying that conducting oral proceedings in English, the language commonly used in international business, offers many advantages for foreign parties.

Even though confidentiality of disputes is guaranteed before arbitration courts as opposed to the commercial courts which are generally open to the public, it is possibile to apply for exclusion of the public in order to protect business secrets. 

If the parties wish to bring a potential future dispute before one of the chambers for international commercial matters, it is advisable to expressly include this in the jurisdiction clause of the respective contract and state that the parties agree to conduct any oral proceedings in English and to waive the need for an interpreter. Otherwise, as experience shows, it is difficult to obtain the required mutual consent later, when a dispute has already come up between the parties.

Since the development is quite new, respective jurisdiction clauses are still rare. Nevertheless, clients seeking alternatives to expensive arbitration or even more expensive London courts in international commercial matters are hereby encouraged to give the German judicial system a try. We at FGvW are there to assist you in case of need – especially since our Berlin, Frankfurt and Freiburg offices are located close to courts where chambers for international commercial matters were recently established.

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