History of the Federal Ministry of Justice and for Consumer Protection
When the first Federal Minister of Justice was appointed on 20 September 1949, there was already a tradition of central judicial authorities in Germany dating back over 70 years.
This tradition began in 1875 with the Imperial Office of Justice (Reichsjustizamt), which was initially a dependent division within the Imperial Chancellery (Reichskanzleramt) until it was elevated to the status of an independent Supreme Authority of the Reich on 1 January 1877. The Office was headed by a state secretary and was primarily responsible for drafting legislation, a traditional area of the justice sector.
It had the task of assisting the imperial government as well as the parliament of the time - comprised of the Reichstag and Bundesrat - in the legislative process. The Office's remit included the Imperial Court, the Imperial Prosecutor's Office and the Imperial Patent Office, but not the administration of the courts and judicial authorities. The Länder had primary responsibility for justice administration. This structure did not change when, after the establishment of the Weimar Republic in 1919, the newly created Imperial Ministry of Justice (Reichsministerium der Justiz) was headed by a Minister.
The National Socialists broke with this tradition. Starting in 1934, they "imperialised" the justice sector: the ministries of the Länder were dissolved, and the Imperial Ministry of Justice assumed responsibility for justice administration. After the defeat of the German Reich in 1945, responsibility for justice administration in the three western occupation zones was once again placed in the hands of the newly created Länder - and the centralisation of the justice sector was thereby reversed.
Article 92 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) declares: "The judicial power shall be vested in the judges; it shall be exercised by the Federal Constitutional Court, by the federal courts provided for in this Basic Law, and by the courts of the Länder."
This meant that all courts below the Federal courts were designated courts of the Länder and thus also administered by the Länder. Thus when the Basic Law was promulgated on 23 May 1949, it was clear that the future Federal Ministry of Justice would once again become a "legislative" ministry.
It is characterised as a "legislative" ministry because its tasks focus primarily on the legislative process rather than government administration or the immediate activity of governing. Of course, this does not mean that the Ministry enacts laws. The legislature in the Federal Republic of Germany - as in all parliamentary democracies - is comprised of the legislative bodies, that is the German Bundestag and Bundesrat. The Federal Ministry of Justice only prepares drafts of Federal Government laws within the framework of its assigned responsibilities, before these are then submitted to the legislative bodies. In the further course of the legislative process, the Ministry is also involved in representing the Federal Government before the legislative bodies.
When the Federal Government relocated in the summer of 1999, the Justice Ministry returned to Berlin (near the Gendarmenmarkt). Thus the highest German judicial authority is once again located in the city where it was baptised as the "Imperial Office of Justice" in 1877.