In dubio pro reo

In German conflict situations, such as criminal law, the general rule “in dubio pro reo” (when in doubt, for the accused) applies. During the examination of a conflict and in reconstruction of the facts, it is requird that the judiciary be extremely accurate. 

This means among other things, that subjective evidence, such as taking testimonies on the basis of assumptions (even though they might be accurate), are not sufficient indications of the facts. This protects the German defendants from unlawful decisions. 

However, this also means that even if the subjective evidence is convincing, the prosecutor does not have the right to use it, unless and until objective evidence (e.g. reviewed testimonies, video- or tape recordings, images) verifies it. 

If the prosecutor is not able to find such evidence and tries to support his argument by using subjective testimony, he still carries the burden of proof. 

Let’s take the example of a prosecutor whose house was graffitied. The prosecutor does not know with certainty that the graffiti was actually done by the defendant, but he has a strong subjective presumption since the defendant is a well-known graffiti artist in the neighborhood. 

The prosecutor carries the burden of proof. Relying only on subjective reasoning will lead to the lawsuit being rejected due to lack of conclusiveness.


The process of Schlichtung – arbitration, mediation, conciliation – is a bit different in every case. To get a sense for the process it is helpful to take a look at the Mediationsgesetz – mediation law, for there is actually a law in Germany supporting out-of-court arbitration.

The law states clearly that the Schlichter takes a neutral position during the mediation. She or he is to lead the conflict parties to a consensual (both agree freely) resolution of the conflict, so as to avoid the need for a court case.

The Schlichter speaks with each party separately in order to reconstruct the conflict as objectively as possible. But what does “objective” actually mean? The mediation law does not answer that question. It is the job of the Schlichter, typically via a long process, to find the truth.

The one conflict party tries to prove the guilt of the other party. That party, in turn, does their best to prove lack of guilt. The mediator does her best to get as objective a picture of the situation as possible. 


Rekonstruktion. Reconstruction. To rebuild; to explain an event, situation, thing as it once was; a work of art, music, literature, a physical thing such as a building or the behavior of people, an historical development.

Sich ein eigenes Bild von etwas machen. Literally to make for oneself a picture of something; to look at something with one‘s own eyes; to inform oneself at the scene.

Wahrheit. Truth; as it is, was; what is true, is lasting; what was truly the case, what is accurate.

Umstand. That which is present, literally standing around; what was present and influenced an event; contextual factors; an important, critical factor or influence.

Einordnen. To put into order, to fit in; to put in place within a system; to judge; to fit into an existing pattern or set-up; to size someone up, to get a read on.

Beweismaterial. Evidence; information relevant to a court case; to gather, secure, proof, destroy, hide evidence.

Rules of Mediation

The first rule is that the conflict resolution process is not the equivalent of a court case. The goal is not to judge either of the conflict parties, but to jointly find a solution to the problem.

Goodwill. It is expected of all parties involved that they act in good faith and are willing to compromise. The mediator should do no more than guide the discussion and help the conflict parties to recognize common ground. The conflict parties are asked to find a solution together. Only when that cannot be achieved, is the moderator expected to make concrete suggestions.

The mediator. Germans expect the moderator to be neutral, to listen patiently to both sides of the conflict, and to support the resolution process in a way which does not damage either party. Neither blame nor guilt should be attributed to either of the conflict parties. Instead, the mediator focuses on reconstructing events and describing the problem.

Heiner Geissler, a former high-ranking member of the Christian Democratic Party, is the most prominent of German mediator. Geißler has been brought in numerous times since 1997 to help resolve conflicts between companies and unions. He was in the national spotlight over the last few years in his attempt to help resolve a major political conflict in the state of Baden-Württemberg concerning a the reconstruction of the Stuttgart main train station.

Detective Shows

The German fascination with investigations and the reconstruction of events is evident in the popularity of crime novels and detective series on television. The story is always about figuring out the facts behind a crime. The show ends with the apprehension of the criminal and a reconstruction of the crime.

The most popular of German detective show is Tatort, literally Crime Scene, which began in 1970, has produced over 800 episodes, and attracts between 7 and 11 million viewers per show.

Soko 5113 began in 1978 and has run 40 sets of episodes. Both series have led to popular spin-offs. On any given evening, on any given channel in Germany, a detective show is being broadcasted. Many are co-productions involving teams from Germany, Great Britain, the U.S. and Skandanavian countries.