Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland
|Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland|
The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland (German: Bundesgericht, French: Tribunal fédéral, Italian: Tribunale Federale, Romansh: Tribunal federal (help·info)) is the supreme court of the Swiss Confederation. As part of the judiciary, it is one of the three branches of government in Switzerland's political system.
It is headquartered in the Federal Courthouse in Lausanne in the canton of Vaud. The two social security departments of the Federal Court (formerly Federal Insurance Court, as an organizationally independent unit of the Federal Court), are located in Lucerne. The United Federal Assembly elects 38 federal judges to the Federal Supreme Court. The current president of the court is Gilbert Kolly.
The Federal Supreme Court is the final arbiter on disputes in the field of civil law (citizens-citizens), the public arena (citizen-state), as well as in disputes between cantons or between cantons and the Confederation. Decisions in the field of human rights violation can be resolved through the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
As a state agency, the Federal Court examines the uniform application of federal law by the cantonal and federal courts. It protects the rights that the citizen has according to the Federal Court. During a dispute, the Federal Supreme Court examines the application of the law and the facts of the other courts below, unless particularly flawed.
According to the Constitution of Switzerland, the court has jurisdiction over violations of:
- federal law;
- public international law;
- inter-cantonal law;
- cantonal constitutional rights;
- autonomy of municipalities, and other guarantees granted by the Cantons to public corporate bodies; and
- federal and cantonal provisions concerning political rights.
Because of an emphasis on direct democracy through referendum, the Constitution precludes the court from reviewing acts of the Federal Parliament, unless such review is specifically provided for by statute.
Decisions of arbitral tribunals constituted under Swiss law, such as the Court of Arbitration for Sport, can be appealed to the Federal Supreme Court, although judicial review is limited to a very narrow set of questions of law in such cases.
The supervisory bodies are the Court Assembly, the Administrative Commission and the Conference of Presidents. The Court Assembly consists of all ordinary judges and is mainly responsible for the Court’s internal organisation. It designates the divisions, appoints their presidents and issues the procedural rules for the Court. The Administrative Commission is responsible for managing the Court’s administration. It is composed of the President of the Federal Supreme Court, the Vice-President and one other judge. The Conference of Presidents consists of the presidents of the various divisions and is responsible for the coordination of judicial decision-making among the divisions. The President of the Federal Supreme Court acts in an advisory capacity. The Secretary- General participates in meetings held by the Court Assembly, the Administrative Commission and the Conference of Presidents in an advisory capacity.
A total of 38 judges sit on the bench of the Federal Supreme Court. Currently 13 women and 25 men serve as federal judges. Of the federal judges currently serving on the bench, three have Italian, 12 French and 23 German as their native language. The judges are forbidden from engaging in any gainful occupation outside of their work as federal judges. The federal judges have the status of government officials.
The federal judges are proposed by the Judicial Committee and elected by the United Federal Assembly (National Council and Council of States) for a term of office of six years. They can be re-elected an unlimited number of times until the age of 68. Anyone who has the right to vote at the federal level may be elected a federal judge; the law does not prescribe any legal training. In practice, however, only proven jurists from the judiciary, practicing legal profession, academia or the public sector are elected.
Deputy federal judges
The Federal Supreme Court numbers 19 deputy judges, who are also elected by the Federal Assembly. Of the deputy judges currently sitting on the bench, three have Italian, five French and 11 German as their native language. Eight of the deputy judges are women. The deputy federal judges serve in a part-time capacity, otherwise they are professors, practicing lawyers or cantonal judges. As a general rule, they serve as replacements for judges who have recused themselves or have taken ill, or when the Court’s docket has become overly full. In the proceedings on which they sit they have the same rights and obligations as the ordinary federal judges.
The court clerks are the judicial staff of the judges. Previously their primary task was to draft the written judgements after the decisions had been rendered in court. Due to the increasing case load of the Court, the court clerks are now also tasked with drafting the draft ruling in many cases. They also are involved in an advisory capacity in the preparatory stages of proceedings and during deliberations. They draft the final text of rulings based on the remarks made by the members of the division. Currently 132 court clerks serve on the Federal Supreme Court, approximately one third of whom are women.
The Federal Supreme Court divisions
The 38 federal judges are elected by the United Federal Assembly. The Federal Supreme Court is composed of seven divisions, with five or six judges each. The tasks of the divisions differ according to the legal domains they cover (public law, private law, criminal
First Public Law Division
Guarantee of ownership, national and regional spatial planning and construction law, environmental protection, political rights, international judicial cooperation in criminal matters, road traffic (including the revocation of driving licences), citizenship, guarantees of due process. In criminal proceedings: appeals against interlocutory rulings.
Division president: Jean Fonjallaz
Judges: Thomas Merkli, Peter Karlen, Ivo Eusebio, François Chaix, Lorenz Kneubühler
Second Public Law Division
Rights of foreigners, taxes and duties, public commercial law (e.g. state liability, subsidies, radio and television), fundamental rights such as freedom of religion and conscience, freedom of language and economic freedom.
Division president: Andreas Zünd
Judges: Hans Georg Seiler, Florence Aubry Girardin, Yves Donzallaz, Thomas Stadelmann, Stephan Haag
First Civil Law Division
Code of Obligations (law of obligations), insurance contracts, intellectual property rights, competition law and international arbitration.
Division president: Christina Kiss
Judges: Kathrin Klett, Gilbert Kolly, Fabienne Hohl, Martha Niquille
Second Civil Law Division
Civil Code (law of persons, family law, law of succession and property law), proceedings concerning debt recovery and bankruptcy.
Division president: Nicolas von Werdt
Judges: Elisabeth Escher, Luca Marazzi, Christian Herrmann, Felix Schöbi, Grégory Bovey
Criminal Law Division
Criminal matters arising from substantive criminal law (including the execution of penalties and measures) and from the Code of Criminal Procedure (except appeals against interlocutory rulings in criminal proceedings).
Division president: Christian Denys
Judges: Laura Jacquemoud-Rossari, Niklaus Oberholzer, Yves Rüedi, Monique Jametti
First Social Law Division
Disability insurance, accident insurance, unemployment insurance, cantonal social insurance, family allowances, social assistance, military insurance and civil service law.
Division president: Susanne Leuzinger
Judges: Rudolf Ursprung, Jean-Maurice Frésard, Marcel Maillard, Alexia Heine
Second Social Law Division
Old-age and survivors’ insurance, disability insurance, loss-of-income payments, supplementary benefits, health insurance and occupational pensions.
Division president: Lucrezia Glanzmann
Judges: Ulrich Meyer, Brigitte Pfiffner, Francesco Parrino, Margit Moser-Szeless
Notes and references
- Federal Supreme Court in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
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