The German legal system is the product of many centuries of development, starting with the tribal laws of the first Germans. Those indigenous customs were influenced and changed under Roman law and later by the laws that prevailed in the Holy Roman Em
pire. Feudal law also had a strong influence. When more formal law and legal institutions appeared in the eighteenth century, codes of law and police systems were left to the individual territorial entities. The codes that evolved were mixtures of German,
Roman, and ecclesiastical law.
The drive toward political unification during the nineteenth century was accompanied by a trend toward legal unification, especially in commercial matters. In other areas of law, however, the prerogatives of each political entity still governed. Only
after the achievement of political unification under Prussian dominance in 1871 was a start made on drawing up German legal codes.
The codes and laws on police and penal institutions adopted after unification showed in varying degrees the influence of the Napoleonic Code. Patterns were established that, despite modifications, continued to prevail. The most important of the early
models were the Penal Code of 1871, defining three classes of imprisonment still in use in 1995; the procedural codes of 1877; the law of 1877 establishing a unified court system; and the comprehensive Civil Code, which took effect in its full scope of 2,
385 paragraphs in 1900.
Parallel with the courts and laws, there developed a structure of penal institutions and a police system, both characterized by the efficiency for which German administrative organs had long been noted. Although their administration was somewhat relax
ed during the Weimar period (1918-33), these bureaucracies tended toward rigidity. The police and penal authorities saw their positions and responsibilities as servants of the state as overshadowing any obligation of service to the people.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, they capitalized on the tendencies of the legal bureaucracy, centralizing control of the police and administration of the courts and making widespread use of special courts. Ostensibly, the laws and institutions r
emained the same. However, the spirit of the law and the legal system were gradually and totally subverted by the agenda of the Nazi leadership. When the "sound instincts of the people" demanded it, as interpreted by the Nazis, the rule of law was complet
The impact of Nazi ideology was greatest on the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Third Reich greatly broadened the definition of criminal activity, particularly in the category of crimes against the state, and made punishment much
harsher. The Code of Criminal Procedure was distorted almost beyond recognition by the activities of the Nazi-inspired People's Court, in which those convicted of crimes against the state were often sentenced to death. In twelve years, an extensive netwo
rk of special and summary courts of indeterminate jurisdiction was developed.
The police, whose powers and responsibilities were significantly broadened, became tools of the ruling party under the direct control of the minister of interior. The regular police--including city and town forces, motorized gendarmerie in rural areas
, and administrative police, who administered codes and regulations--were supplemented by much more powerful internal security units. These included the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei), which incorporated the Criminal Investigation Police and the Bor
der Police, as well as the newly formed Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei--Gestapo). Two other of Hitler's organizations, the Storm Troops (Sturmabteilung--SA) and the Guard Detachment (Schutz-Staffel--SS), in company with the Gestapo, became inf
amous as instruments of Nazi brutality.
After World War II, each of the Allied authorities permitted the formation of West German police forces, although under terms that reflected their own police structures and traditions. In all three Western zones, however, the police were decentralized
, democratized, and demilitarized. Some restrictions were lifted within two years as Cold War tensions grew, and certain police functions necessitated central rather than local direction. The Federal Border Force was created to handle special functions th
at overlapped Land
jurisdictions. In addition to this force, federal agencies were created to handle interstate criminal matters and overall security affairs.
Federal Police Agencies
Established in 1951, the Federal Border Force (Bundesgrenzschutz--BGS) was the first federal police organization permitted by the Allied occupation authorities. During the early 1950s, there were frequent incidents on the borders with East Germany and
Czechoslovakia, and the occupation authorities became convinced of the need for a competent border police. Even though the BGS is organized along paramilitary lines, that is, in battalions, companies, and platoons, and is armed as light infantry, it rema
ins a police force controlled by the Ministry of Interior rather than by the Ministry of Defense. The strength of the BGS was 24,000 in early 1995. The BGS is equipped with armored cars, machine guns, automatic rifles, tear gas, hand grenades, rifle grena
des, and antitank weapons. All personnel on border duty wear sidearms. Some units have light aircraft and helicopters to facilitate rapid access to remote border areas and for patrol and rescue missions. A coast guard force (Bundesgrenzschutz-See) of appr
oximately 550 members forms a part of the BGS. It is equipped with fourteen large patrol craft and several helicopters.
In addition to controlling Germany's border, the BGS serves as a federal reserve force to deal with major disturbances and other emergencies beyond the scope of Land
police. The BGS guards airports and foreign embassies, and several highly trained detachments are available for special crisis situations requiring demolition equipment, helicopters, or combat vehicles. After shortcomings in police procedures and trainin
g were revealed by the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, a BGS task force known as Special Group 9 (BGS-9) was formed to deal with terrorist incidents, especially hostage situations. The BGS-9 won world attention when it rescued e
ighty-six passengers on a Lufthansa airliner hijacked to Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1977.
A military rank structure similar to that of the Bundeswehr was replaced in the mid-1970s by civil service-type personnel grades. The service uniform is green, but field units also wear camouflage fatigues and, at times, steel helmets.
Another central police agency, the Federal Criminal Investigation Office (Bundeskriminalamt--BKA), with approximately 3,000 agents, operates nationwide from headquarters in Wiesbaden. Similar in some respects to the United States Federal Bureau of Inv
estigation, the BKA is a clearinghouse for criminal intelligence records. It provides assistance to Länder
in forensic matters, research, and criminal investigations. It is also the national point of contact for the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). The BKA enters cases only when requested by Land
authorities, or in cases involving two or more Länder
. The BKA is involved in combating various terrorist gangs, which have plagued the country since the 1960s.
Two federal agencies involved in security matters are the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst--BND) and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz--BfV). Based in Munich, the BND is res
tricted to the investigation of threats originating abroad. It depends heavily on wiretapping and other surveillance techniques applied to international communications. Such activities are authorized only to counter the danger of an armed threat to the co
untry, but intelligence authorities have pressed for the added power to monitor suspected international traffickers of weapons and drugs. The BfV is primarily a domestic intelligence-gathering service concerned with espionage, treason, and sedition. It ha
s no powers of arrest and cannot use force, but it carries out surveillance and supplies the BKA and other police agencies with information on international crime, drug trafficking, terrorism, and other illegal activities. Its main office is in Cologne. S
imilar offices exist in each Land
; although they cooperate closely with the federal office, they operate under the control of Land
Data as of August 1995