Is the justice system fair

Tough but fair: How fair is the German judiciary?

The little ones are hanged, the big ones let go - this is a widespread prejudice about the German legal system. The allegations are particularly often loud after high-profile trials against known people. In "Hart aber fair", the moderator Frank Plasberg and his guests follow the trail. Do celebrities really get away with it in court?

What is the theme?

Before the law all are equal. Is that really true? Every second German believes that rich and celebrities are preferred in court. Secret "deals" and many a verdict seem to confirm the suspicion in public opinion.

The ARD talk show "Hart aber fair" investigates the allegations on Monday evening and is mainly based on the most recent cases of Bernie Ecclestone, Uli Hoeneß and Sebastian Edathy.

Who are the guests?

In his book "Einspruch", published in 2014, the former Federal Minister of Labor railed Norbert Blüm (CDU) against the German legal system. He is contradicted by a media lawyer in Plasberg's broadcast Ralf Höckerwho has represented Jörg Kachelmann and Felix Magath, among others.

Lawyer Ingo Lenßen is mainly known to a larger audience through "scripted reality" programs such as "Lenßen & Partner". The author and journalist sits next to him on the bench Anna of Bavaria. As chairman of the German Association of Judges Christoph Frank his profession.

Who were the opponents of the evening?

Was there a "celebrity bonus" for Ecclestone and Hoeneß? Norbert Blüm is convinced of it. He takes on the role of chief prosecutor at Plasberg and paints a gloomy picture of the German judiciary. Sloppy reports and wrong judgments were therefore part of everyday life in the courtrooms. For Formula 1 boss Ecclestone, 75 million euros for the discontinuation of the procedure are just a "charity". "I don't like it at all that money replaces law," says Blüm, who is not a lawyer himself.

Ralf Höcker in particular defends himself against this. "You mustn't generalize individual cases," accuses media lawyer Blüm. "There are also deals for normal people," says Höcker. The factual check by the editors confirms it: proceedings were terminated in this way 245,000 times in 2013. "The rich must have the same rights as the poor," emphasizes Höcker. In addition, celebrities have the disadvantage that their case is reported in the media every day. The other lawyers also defend their branch against Blüm. At the main hearing, there was little evidence of Ecclestone's guilt, points out Judge Frank.

What was the thesis of the evening?

A philosophical excursion in the panel discussion shows the tension that exists between the legal perception of laypeople and some of the judgments of trained lawyers. "It's not just about law in the sense of the written law. It's also about ethics and morals," says Blüm, which corresponds to the high demands many people place on the judiciary.

But law and justice are not always the same. "Morality is individual," says the Bavarian journalist. And the lawyers on the show refer to their task of preventing as much damage as possible from their clients. What an accused cannot prove, he does not have to admit. "There is no obligation to deliver," says Höcker.

What is the result of the evening?

Whether a judgment is appropriate or not, opinions differ not only in the case of "hard but fair". Ecclestone's payment in the millions, like Lenßen, can be seen more pragmatically as a profit for the state treasury, in the event of a possible acquittal it would have come off empty-handed. In Höcker's opinion, the three and a half years imprisonment for Hoeneß can be perceived as "not a little" for a first-time offender, since the punishment does not only depend on the amount of tax fraud.

But short proceedings and meetings behind closed doors also arouse suspicion. "The aftertaste of deals remains," notes von Bayern. The accusation of child pornography, as in the Edathy case, must also always lead to a particularly severe punishment in many people's eyes - regardless of the delicate legal situation.

But judgments are always dependent on the person of the judge - and even on the time of day, show studies presented in the program. Before the lunch break, judges judge more harshly than afterwards, in the morning more mildly than shortly before the end of the day. "We just don't have any judicial machines," says Höcker. Errors were also part of it.

Unfortunately, little time is devoted to the most interesting aspect in this regard: What if a judge makes serious mistakes, even disregarding legal principles? According to Frank, perversion of the law does exist, but convictions are rare. Tracking this down could have been more exciting than rehashing old cases.

In the end, in his opinion, Plasberg discovered "a sign of the two-tier justice system". Because wealthy people would definitely have one advantage in court: They could spend more money on lawyers. These do not necessarily have to be the better ones, but they could often spend more time on legal tricks and ways out, Lenßen admits. A circumstance that probably also led to ex-Arcandor manager Thomas Middelhoff's release from prison on Monday.