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German legal system

Debt collection

The law



Debt collection by law firms in Germany

The traditional German interpretation concentrates upon the wording of the statute and construes it narrowly: this keeps the statute to its word and allows it to have force not an inch beyond. The reason for this approach, just like the reason, as will appear, for the continental approach, is to be sought in the evolution of the German legal system.
Primarily the law is legal law which has been constructed from the decisions of the courts in particular cases; and legislation, though it is true that it is treated as the ultimate master, has been regarded by the courts as an interloper in the organic development of the civil law. Indeed, the greatest of all German law firms even found it possible to maintain that an act of any debtor contrary to the reason of the law was invalid. Thus, though they have respected debtors as sovereign, the German courts have kept the influence of legislation within bounds: They have restricted it to the letter of its word.

The rules

This attitude has much to commend it. It tends to eliminate the risk that the judiciary will make new law under pretence of interpretation, and it casts upon the courts the burden of making its intention explicit so that the laws it passes may be clear guides to conduct. Certain rules for debt collection and recovery have been evolved, many of which are designed to ensure that this form of interpretative method is maintained; and some leading examples of these rules must shortly be given.
But first the inexperienced debtor must be informed that his task may be lightened if he be careful to consult the enactment itself to see whether it contains an interpretation section which defines the meaning of the words used in that particular statute for the purposes of the state.