Paragraph vs. Case

It is a well known fact that the German and American legal systems have fundamental differences between them. The modern German legal system is based on ancient Roman law, combined with a bit of French and old Germanic law, but all of it follows the paragraph law structure.

The American system is derived from the English case law tradition, which follows the law as it was laid out by judicial verdicts in actual previous cases. Key cases providing precedence are reviewed to determine how to continue.

Justice (Gerechtigkeit) and judgement are closely connected in the American system. Not just the concrete facts of the case, but also the circumstances are considered to be crucial information for the deliberations and verdict. These then must be interpreted with regard to the complex nature of the human existence.

A task which only persons with sufficient experience with life as well as with people are capable of. This experience – or the wisdom that comes from such experience – is something which only older people can have.

This is why Americans are always astounded when they hear that in Germany relatively young people – in their early 30s – can become judges. The district attorneys that they see on German television look as if they were fresh out of law school.

According to the American understanding of judicial power, paragraph laws play a minor part. Case law is so difficult precisely because it concern situations which are not found in a German book of federal law.

This is why American judges must be older people who are truly good and wise. Their process too involves stringent scientific methods of analysis, not unlike German paragraph laws. These, from the American perspective, can not deliver more than just the pure facts.

The ability to take these facts and interpret them, to make sense of them, this is what they view as true good judgement. Knowledge of methodology and analytical processes may support one’s good judgement, but can never amount to the equivalent.