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Report on the Court Coaching Session in Freiburg on April 20th, 2012

Thank you very much for your invitation to the 10th birthday of the CEPEJ.
Thank you also for the opportunity to speak to you on this happy and auspicious occasion. First I would like to pass on the congratulations and best wishes from the president of our court, Mr. Andreas Neff, who unfortunately is unable to be here today.

My court, the District Court of Freiburg i. Br., is quite a “young” pilot court: we joined the Network of the Pilot Courts of the CEPEJ in summer 2011.

We were especially interested in the subject of judicial time management and applied for a coaching session with a view to implement the SATURN Guidelines for judicial time management soon after our nomination as a Pilot Court.

The Secretariat of the CEPEJ was very helpful in organising the coaching session. Mr. Bühler, our coach, showed great flexibility concerning the date of our coaching session. We were we able to pick and choose the date most suitable for us.

Moreover, we were able to shape the coaching session to our liking: as we were especially interested in the subject of judicial time management, we agreed with Mr. Bühler that we would limit the coaching session to the SATURN Guidelines and Tools, leaving other tools of the CEPEJ for another occasion. Due to the internal organisation of our court, we also agreed to focus solely on civil litigation at first instance.

Prior to the Meeting, which took place at our court on April 20th, 2012, Mr. Bühler sent a draft schedule of the session which was helpful for our internal organization. He also gave us some “homework” to do to prepare the coaching session. He asked us to collect and submit to the Secretariat data for the last 5 years concerning the number of

In addition, we received a lot of helpful material from Mr. Bühler prior to the meeting. To help us in preparing the meeting Mr. Bühler supplied us with a German version of a selection of 15 of the SATURN Guidelines for judicial time management. He also submitted a report on the implementation of the Guidelines at a court in Switzerland, the court of Dorneck-Thierstein and a Guide called “Implementing the SATURN Time Management Tools in Court”.

The coaching session itself was held by Mr. Bühler from the Secretariat of the CEPEJ, who was accompanied by Mrs. Oreshkina, assistant of the Secretariat. From our court the session was attended by our president, Mr. Neff, the vice president, the controller of our court and three judges, two of them presiding judges.

Mr. Bühler first introduced the SATURN tools for judicial time management. He also presented an analysis and an evaluation of the length of proceedings at our court. We were quite satisfied to hear that from a purely statistical point of view, our court does quite well, the average length of proceedings being less than eight months. Also, our court during the last couple of years managed to resolve roughly as many cases as were newly initiated in the same period of time.

However, our statistical data showed that length of procedure is a problem in certain complex cases, especially malpractice suits against physicians, tax counsellors and lawyers or suits arising from construction contracts.
These complex cases account for up to 1/3 of a typical judge’s caseload.

During the discussion, two main reasons for the delays in those kind of cases were identified:

A change in the person of a judge is not a rare event at our court, one of the reasons being that in Baden-Württemberg new judges (the so-called “assessors”) are supposed to get to know different functions within the judiciary. Their stage at our court thus usually is limited to 2 years, with a new assessor following his or her predecessor, often with a lapse of time of greater of shorter length. Moreover, changes in the person of a judge are due to promotion or maternity leave.

In Germany there is no legal regulation or even best practice with respect to the process of handing over a case to another judge. Often, there is no transfer of knowledge, the effect being that in many cases the new judge working his or her way through the file will have to duplicate much of the work that has already be done (but not documented) by his or her predecessor.

Mr. Bühler suggested that it might be an interesting task for the CEPEJ to conduct an enquiry regarding the transfer of knowledge in those cases in different countries.

Mr. Bühler was true to his word: At the next meeting of the Pilot Courts already, which took place in September 2012 on the beautiful island of Gozo, Malta, we had the opportunity to discuss the problem of handing over a case to a another judge at a workshop focussing solely on this issue.

During the workshop we found out that no country provides legal regulations concerning the handing over of a case to another judge. From my point of view this is not so very astonishing as the way how to hand over a case is part of the independence of a judge so that legal regulation in this area might cause problems with constitutional law.

We then proceeded to look for ideas and suggestions, facilitating the handing over of a case. We also investigated how the different countries deal with this special problem and tried to figure out whether “best practices” concerning this problem could be established.

Mr. Bühler is currently preparing a summary of the workshop, resulting in a number of ideas and suggestions of how to deal with this problem. I have submitted a draft version of the summary to the president of our court, Mr. Neff, who was quite impressed by the number and the quality of the suggestions how to tackle the problem. We might not be able to implement all of the ideas and suggestions, as some of them involve financial or human resources we are not provided with (I am still impressed by the practice in Estonia, where a judge leaving his position is exempted from getting new cases 4 months prior to his leaving…). However, I am sure that we will profit from the results of the workshop. Some suggestions can be turned into practice without too much costs or hassle and may nevertheless proof quite efficient. Thus we might think about the suggestion of creating within our administrative software a possibility of providing “internal comments” or information on how the judge thinks of the case or which steps he is going to take next.

Summing up I think that our court greatly benefited from the coaching session. Moreover I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to the Commission, the Secretariat, and, of course, Mr. Bühler, whose highly competent and professional help was greatly appreciated. I can only encourage other courts to apply for a similar coaching session.