GER: Admissibility of a statement of claim in Polish language
By a court decision of 15.03.2017, file no. 4 K 18/17, the 4th Senate of the financial court Hamburg (Finanzgericht Hamburg) decided that if the court, out of its own motion, caused a translation of a statement of claim, drafted in Polish language and filed in time, the statement of claim is deemed filed within the deadline.
The decision is based on the following facts: By the Tobacco Decree of 27 February 2013, the customs office (Hauptzollamt) sued the claimant for payment of tobacco tax. The claimant objected the payment order, however the customs office rejected the opposition. On 09.02.2017, i.e. within the one-month-period for filing a lawsuit, the fiscal court (Finanzgericht Hamburg) received a letter from the claimant in Polish language. Acc. to the translation obtained by the court, the claimant appealed the customs office rejection decision. The claimant argued that since he does not speak German, the text he received was incomprehensible for him and he asked to provide him with a text in a language that he could understand. He further asked to examine the matter another time and to justify the amount.
The Finanzgericht Hamburg considered the statement of claim in Polish language to be legally effective and thus in due time. The court deliberately did not decide whether it was sufficient for the claimant to file the statement of claim in time in an official language of the European Union. Acc. to the Finanzgericht, the statement of claim was considered as being filed in time due to the fact that the court ex officio asked for a translation of the pleadings, which it received still during within the deadline for filing the claim. The court further decided that there is an obligation on courts to ask for translations of pleadings in a foreign language, which, as in this case, contain sufficient evidence that the letter is or court be a statement of claim, commencing actions or a similar action.
The Finanzgericht considered this procedure necessary in the lights of the principles on due process of law as laid down in our constitution (Grundgesetz), which is applicable to foreigners as well.
As a result, the statement of claim however dismissed the claim as unfounded.
Note: By its decision on the admissibility of the action, Finanzgericht Hamburg differs from the dominant position of other courts, which consider statements of claims in a foreign, non-German language as legally irrelevant and thus not able to keep a deadline. Therefore we strongly advise against filing actions in a foreign language.
Contact person:Damian Wypior, Attorney at law