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Symbolbild zu Videokonferenztechnik in Gerichtsprozessen: Frau nimmt an Videokonferenz teil
16.01.2024 | KPMG Law Insights

Law to promote video conferencing technology in court proceedings

On November 17, 2023, the Bundestag passed a law to promote the use of video conferencing technology in civil and specialist courts. However, after the Bundesrat expressed reservations about the content, the Mediation Committee will first deal with the bill before the new rules can come into force.

The draft law aims to make the justice system more modern, digital and citizen-friendly. Video conferencing should become a natural part of everyday court life. Access to justice should be simple and modern for citizens. The use of video technology is to be raised to a new level in order to save time and resources and to speed up judicial decisions.

The draft law also provides for the possibility of setting up “virtual legal application offices” to communicate with citizens seeking justice via video conference. The draft bill also takes up proposals for amendments from the judiciary. The background: Video hearings and video evidence recordings enable faster and more cost-effective proceedings and thus make an important contribution to the modernization and digitalization of the justice system.

The draft provides for the following changes:

 

128a ZPO is to be revised

According to the draft law, the central standard for video hearings, Section 128a ZPO, will be revised. The court could then not only allow a video hearing to be held, but also order it. The parties to the proceedings would then have the opportunity to apply to be exempted from this order within a period to be determined.

If the parties agree that the oral hearing should be held as a video hearing, this should generally be ordered. If the court rejects an application for a video hearing, it would have to give reasons for this decision. The draft also provides for the possibility of fully virtual hearings in which the court is not present in the courtroom. The Federal Council has raised objections to this: According to it, the court should also be present in the courtroom during a video hearing in order to do justice to the special significance of the oral hearing.

In addition, according to the draft law, the taking of evidence, in particular the inspection of evidence, is to be possible via video conference.

 

Further changes for the court proceedings

The lump sum for expenses for the use of video conferencing technology in accordance with the Court Costs Acts is to be abolished under the draft law.

According to the Federal Ministry of Justice, the oral hearing, including the taking of evidence, may be recorded in audio and video in future, Section 160a ZPO-E. Previously, only audio recording was permitted. In certain proceedings, the parties should have the option of requesting audio or audiovisual documentation of witness statements.

 

Simplifications for citizens

Another planned innovation: According to the draft bill, it should be possible to submit applications and declarations for the minutes of the court registry via video to the court registry (Section 129a ZPO-E). This applies, for example, to applying for legal aid and filing a lawsuit with the local court.

The procedure for taking a statement of assets is to be extended so that it can be taken by video or at a location other than the offices of a bailiff or the debtor’s home (Section 802f ZPO-E).

 

Conclusion and outlook

The promotion of the use of video conferencing technology in the judiciary is to be welcomed. Conducting oral negotiations via video conferencing increases efficiency and contributes to cost savings, as travel costs and expenses are eliminated. In addition, video hearings make court hearings more accessible for people who have difficulty attending face-to-face hearings due to distance or physical limitations.

It remains to be seen how the bill will be revised by the mediation committee. Although the Federal Council supports the facilitation of video hearings, it would like to preserve the oral hearing in the courtroom as the heart of the court process. The countries reject purely virtual negotiations. When the law finally comes into force, it will become clear how quickly the new possibilities will be used in practice, and in particular how quickly the justice administrations of the Federal States will create the necessary technical requirements for video conferencing.

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