The system of ordinary courts is headed by the Supreme Court
in Vienna. This court is the court of final instance for most
civil and criminal cases. It can also hear cases involving
commercial, labor, or patent decisions, but constitutional or
administrative decisions are outside its purview. Justices hear
cases in five-person panels.
Four superior courts, which are appellate courts, are located
in Vienna, Graz, Linz, and Innsbruck. They are usually courts of
second instance for civil and criminal cases and are the final
appellate courts for district court cases. Usually, a three-judge
panel hears cases.
On a lower level are seventeen regional courts having
jurisdiction over provincial and district matters. Boundaries of
judicial districts may or may not coincide with those of
administrative districts. Regional courts serve as courts of
first instance for civil and criminal cases carrying penalties of
up to ten years' imprisonment and as appellate courts for some
cases from district courts. Justices usually sit as a threeperson panel, but some cases can be heard by only one judge.
Vienna and Graz have separate courts for civil, criminal, and
juvenile cases, and Vienna also has a separate commercial court.
At the lowest level are about 200 district or local courts,
which decide minor civil and criminal cases, that is, those
involving small monetary value or minor misdemeanors. Questions
involving such issues as guardianship, adoption, legitimacy,
probate, registry of lands, and boundary disputes are also
settled at this level. Depending on the population of the area,
the number of judges varies, but one judge can decide a case.
Civil and criminal matters are heard in separate courts in Vienna
and Graz. Vienna further divides civil courts into one for
commercial matters and one for other civil cases.
Ordinary court judges are chosen by the federal president or,
if the president so decides, by the minister for justice on the
basis of cabinet recommendations. The judiciary retains a
potential voice in naming judges, inasmuch as it must submit the
names of two candidates for each vacancy on the courts. The
suggested candidates, however, need not be chosen by the cabinet.
Lay people have an important role in the judicial system in cases
involving crimes carrying severe penalties, political felonies,
and misdemeanors. The public can participate in court proceedings
as lay assessors or as jurors. Certain criminal cases are subject
to a hearing by two lay assessors and two judges. The lay
assessors and judges decide the guilt or innocence and punishment
of a defendant. If a jury, usually eight lay people, is used, the
jury decides the guilt of the defendant. Then jury and judges
together determine the punishment.
Data as of December 1993