In 2002, Leipzig once again becomes home to one of Germany’s supreme courts, as the Federal Administrative Court moves in.
The Federal Administrative Court – in the building of the former Imperial Court of Justice
When the German Empire was founded in 1871, the imperial justice laws established a supreme court for civil and criminal law. After a prolonged debate, the Reichstag and the Council of the federal states decided in 1877 to locate the Supreme Court – the Imperial Court of Justice – in Leipzig. The young architects Ludwig Hoffmann and Peter Dybwad won a competition with their proposal.
The building of the Imperial Court of Justice was finished in 1895 after seven years of construction and inaugurated by Emperor William II.
The building symbolises the role and importance of the judiciary as the “third power” within the state. It had equal status ranking with the legislature’s Reichstag building in Berlin, which was built at the same time.
From the sculpture of Truth and the ceiling relief with the judicial virtues in the cupola hall and the sculptures of the main stairway to the door relief in the courtrooms – judicial symbolism is everywhere. Alongside the offices, library and the courtrooms, the building’s south wing housed the living quarters of the Court’s president. For his representative tasks, he used a ceremonial hall, which still exists today.
The Imperial Court of Justice ruled on many civil cases. Especially the interpretation of the German Civil Code of 1900 was part of its tasks.
Famous criminal court cases stirred the public. The most famous one was the trial of the Reichstag fire in 1933. It ended with a death sentence for the Dutchman van der Lubbe and the acquittal of four other defendants, among them the Bulgarian communist Georgi Dimitroff. The verdict against van der Lubbe was later reversed by the German parliament alongside other illegitimate Nazi judgments.
The end of the Second World War also marked the end of the Imperial Court of Justice.
The Court’s building – heavily damaged by war – was only partially repaired in the following years. During the period of the German Democratic Republic, it served as Dimitroff museum, Museum of Fine Arts, DEFA film studio, and provided room for multiple public authorities.
After German reunification, the independent Federalism commission of the Federation and the federal states recommended moving the Federal Administrative Court from Berlin to Saxony.
This made it possible for the former building of the Imperial Court of Justice in Leipzig to become the seat of one of Germany’s federal supreme courts. The building had to be comprehensively refurbished and restored. An additional floor was added to gain more space.
The carefully restored historical building is now once again a place of the administration of justice. In this present day, the Palace of Justice, built in the 19th century, fulfils all requirements of a modern court. It houses the German supreme court for administrative matters – the Federal Administrative Court.