Austrian courts

The question arose last week how to translate the Austrian court names. Reference was made to Hausmaninger’s book on The Austrian Legal System.

Austrian civil and criminal courts:

Bezirksgericht (Hausmaninger: District Courts)
Landesgericht (Hausmaninger: Regional Courts)
Oberlandesgericht (Hausmaninger: Court of Appeals)
Oberster Gerichtshof (Hausmaninger: Supreme Court)

These could be handled in exactly the same way as the German courts – see last entry.

Problems with the Hausmaninger suggestions: district court is unclear; supreme court may suggest a constitutional court, but there is also the Verfassungsgerichtshof.

Austria has Bundesländer – I was told that these are called provinces in English. I have not investigated this yet.

I have actually encountered a Kreisgericht, which still existed ten years ago as a rare example, just as I’ve had to translate Kreisgericht (I think) in Saxony after 1990.

14 thoughts on “Austrian courts

  1. maybe i can help a little

    verfassungsgericht = constitutional

    oberster gerichtshof = prob supreme court. does not deal with matters of the constitution instead is the final court of appeals.

    bundeslaender = provinces, yes. a “landesgericht” is the criminal court of a province (i hope i have that right). as far as i know district courts do not deal with anything above petty crime (if even that) and on the other hand the landesgericht does not deal with civil cases.

    there are no “kreisgerichte” in austria. those are german.

  2. i better add though that i have no legal background whatsoever, personal court experience is restricted to 1 civil case – finally went before the “oberster gerichtshof” – and as witness in a criminal case.

    good luck.

  3. I am just wondering what is the best, without having a convincing answer. I only ever had to translate the Oberster Gerichtshof, and the client was a publisher who insisted on ‘Oberster Gerichtshof (Austrian Federal Supreme Court), i.e. use the German. District court is certainly understandable if you make it clear what Austrian court you mean, but it means different things in different countries. Verf. Highest / Supreme Constitutional Court? My book says the Landesgericht does civil and criminal. It’s very like the German system, but how long it has been I don’t know.
    I hope you won your case.
    This is not as interesting as food, of course! That’s why I read your blog – it seems to have more food in it than meisterkoechin…

  4. Let’s not forget the impressive Verwaltungsgerichtshof building at Judenplatz 11 in Vienna.
    The jurisdictional cross-over from this Supreme Admin. Court to the Verfassungsgerichtshof is also not that obvious and is one the questions most frequently asked by more Austrian law students.
    I’m not going to attempt to explain the difference. Let’s see if anyone else can!

  5. ha! yes, i suppose my blog *does* include alot of food! :)

    what i can do is look around for some trustworthy information on how exactly the various austrian courts work and what their specific functions are. you can take it from there then and use whatever english terminology and explanations seem appropriate and least confusing.
    btw, i did win the case in the end (oberster gerichtshof) but it took 5 years and too many nerves.

  6. “Verf. Highest / Supreme Constitutional Court?”

    There is only one constitutional court in Austria, so “Constitutional Court” should probably do.

    “My book says the Landesgericht does civil and criminal.”

    Yes, they certainly do.

    “landesgericht is the criminal court of a province (i hope i have that right”

    I’m afraid you don’t. There are close to 20 Landesgerichte. But see for yourself:

    “district courts do not deal with anything above petty crime (if even that)”

    Den Bezirksgerichten obliegt: 1. das Strafverfahren wegen aller Vergehen, für die nur Geldstrafe oder eine Freiheitsstrafe angedroht ist, deren Höchstmaß ein
    Jahr nicht übersteigt, (with certain exceptions).

    Of course you might call that petty crime if you wish.

    “bundeslaender = provinces”
    The english language versions of the Austrian constitution that I have encountered either call them “states” or “Länder”, i.e. no translation. The Austrian länder might not be more than provinces, as far as size is concerned, but really, constitutionally-wise they are more like states, complete with their own legal system, parliament and all, rather like Germany.

    “there are no kreisgerichte in austria.”

    Not any more, no. There used to be until approx. 10 years ago. For all intents and purposes they were Landesgerichte with a funny name.

  7. To kohlehydrat: actually it isn’t lack of information – see July 12th and 13th with links. The Richtervereinigung is quite good on the courts.
    I’m abbreviating this question of translating courts too much.

    To Herr Greil, sorry, I did not mean one Landesgericht per Land, just, as in Germany, that there are Land(es)gerichte and Bundesgerichte. I realized – or to be honest suspected – there were more than one. We had a discussion in Munich with a translator from Vienna who told me categorically that Bundesland in Austria is province, and this was a tester to see if he is to be believed. Thanks for the information (also with regard to Verfassungsgerichtshof and Kreisgericht – yes, it will have been over 10 years ago when someone enquired about the term). I should think about Verfassungsgerichtshof and Verwaltungsgerichtshof, since they may be the only court in their branch of jurisdiction, but to say constitutional court would perhaps suggest that they were first-instance courts.
    I suppose a year in prison is not really petty!

    I may summarize this in a separate entry some time.

  8. “I did not mean one Landesgericht per Land, just, as in Germany, that there are Land(es)gerichte and Bundesgerichte.”

    Oh, I see. (Although I was really commenting kohlehydrat’s statement.) Well, all courts down to the lowest Bezirksgericht in Austria are federal courts. So, although some of them are called (Ober)Landesgerichte, they really are Bundesgerichte (if that’s not too confusing).

    “… but to say constitutional court would perhaps suggest that they were first-instance courts. ”

    I understand. In German it’s a bit easier, since Gerichts*hof* already denotes some kind of high or supreme court, as compared to a mere …gericht. I don’t suppose this is translatable, however.

  9. Gerichtshof = Palais de Justice in French i.e. Court(s) of Law or Justice. I think it might also be a usable trans. for the High Court of Justice in London a.k.a. – in the palatial plural to denote the many courtrooms – the Courts of Justice on the Strand and soon likely to be renamed the Supreme Court.

  10. Are they putting the new supreme court in that building? I suppose it can’t remain in Westminster. Will they be renaming the present supreme court? i.e. High Court, Crown Court and Court of Appeal (or is the Court of Appeal going? – ah, that would make sense).

    I think Gerichtshof traditionally means any court with Kollegialgerichte as opposed to Einzelrichter, and remains for the highest courts.

    Yes, I may do an entry on the Austrian courts – some time!

  11. This blawg is about legal English, of course, but wouldn’t the French “Palais de Justice” refer to the building (ie the brick-and-mortar Gerichtshof) rather than the institution? I mean, to the best of my knowledge, the French have le tibunal d’instance, de grand instance, la cour d’assises, la cour constitutionelle, etc. but no formal “Palais de Justice”.

    On a related note, about the differences between the Austrian Verwaltungsgerichthof (VwGH) and the Verfassungsgerichtshof (VfGH): You’ll find all that, and much more, in the constitution. But seriously: the VwGH is pretty much just a High Administrative Court, the main task being judicial review of disputed adminstrative decisions (How does one translate “Bescheid”, anyway?).

    The VfGH, on the other hand, apart from a few less important tasks, mainly decides upon the constitutionality of laws and the legality of Verordnungen (regulations?). It, too, has the power of judicial review, but only in those cases where the violation of constitutionally guaranteed rights is claimed.

    So, if you get a speeding ticket and decide to appeal to the fullest extent possible, you’ll finally end up before the VwGH. If you claim that your constitutionally guaranteed rights have been violated (or if, for example, some other court, including the VwGH, has doubts about the constitutionality of a law it would have to apply) the matter is for the VfGH to decide.

    Needless to say, the VwGH is much busier than the VfGH. (Their postal address is the same, however, Judenplatz 11, as has been pointed out before.
    As a matter of fact, they share a building, the former Böhmische Hofkanzlei ( ) In either case, it’ll set you back about at least EUR 1000,– in lawyer’s and other fees, and only if you win your case (the technical term being “obsiegen”) you’re (partially) reimbursed. For still more information (in German) see and

  12. Frankly I don’t know where any future Eng. & Wales Supreme Court is going, though suspect London and not Cardiff.
    I agree that the Palais de Justice/ Justizpalast is the building containing the various courts.
    Coming from another jurisdiction rather than planet, I find it illogical that the BVfG and not the BVwG deals with ‘Beschwerden einer Person gegen Bescheide (determinations; otherwise, decisions, adjudications or rulings) der Verwaltungsbehörden’. But it’s a good trick law exam question.
    Yes. Verordnungen are (EU) regulations specifically: Ordinances or Orders-in-Council generally.
    I agree Aus. Länder should stay the same in Eng. trans. or go to (Federal)States. I wouldn’t myself use Provinces but, to be flexible about it, wouldn’t discount the ‘borderline-acceptable’ trans. that may be acceptable in certain circles.

  13. @Adrian: “I find it illogical that the BVfG and not the BVwG deals with ‘Beschwerden einer Person gegen Bescheide (determinations; otherwise, decisions, adjudications or rulings) der Verwaltungsbehörden.”

    Are you quite sure you’re talking about the Austrian legal system? BVfG (Bundesverfassungericht?) and BVwG (Bundesverwaltungsgericht?) sound suspiciously like German courts.

    According to Art. 144 of the Austrian constitution “Der Verfassungsgerichtshof erkennt über Beschwerden gegen Bescheide der Verwaltungsbehörden einschließlich der Unabhängigen Verwaltungssenate, soweit der Beschwerdeführer durch den Bescheid in einem verfassungsgesetzlich gewährleisteten Recht
    oder wegen Anwendung einer gesetzwidrigen Verordnung, eines verfassungswidrigen Gesetzes oder eines rechtswidrigen Staatsvertrages in seinen Rechten verletzt zu sein behauptet.” whereas the Verwaltungsgerichtshof (Art. 130) “erkennt über Beschwerden, womit a) Rechtswidrigkeit von Bescheiden der Verwaltungsbehörden einschließlich der unabhängigen Verwaltungssenate oder b) Verletzung der Entscheidungspflicht der Verwaltungsbehörden einschließlich der unabhängigen Verwaltungssenate behauptet wird.”

    I must admit I find it quite logical, but you might have been talking about the German system which I know next to nothing about.

    @MM: “I think Gerichtshof traditionally means any court with Kollegialgerichte as opposed to Einzelrichter, and remains for the highest courts.”

    Gerichtshof certainly remains for the highest courts, and those, naturally, always are Kollegialgerichte, but not all Kollegialgerichte are Gerichtshöfe (eg. the Oberlandesgerichte)

  14. Thanks, Ingmar, for putting me to rights over the German court abbreviations I absent-mindedly turned up in the AZR: Abkürzungen und Zitierregeln der – österr. – Rechtssprache. Of course, the Aus. versions are VwGH and VfGH.
    However, my VfGH Beschwerden quote was taken from point 10 at p. 221 of the 2nd ed. of Russwurm-Schoeller’s Österr. Rechtswörterbuch.
    Your explanation with Arts. 130 and 144 quotes of the jurisdictional (non-?)overlap in admin. and const. matters certainly makes things much clearer.

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