The Court consists of two Senates, each of them with eight members. Currently, the Vice-President presides over the First Senate, the President over the Second Senate. Both Senates maintain several Chambers, each of them with three members. Each of the 16 Justices is assisted by four judicial clerks who have prior work experience in regular courts, public authorities, law firms or universities.
Half of the 16 members of the Federal Constitutional Court are elected by the Bundestag, and half by the Bundesrat. Bundestag and Bundesrat also take turns in determining the President and Vice-President of the Court. A two-thirds majority is required in both electoral bodies. This procedure is intended to ensure that the composition of the Senates is well-balanced.
At least three members of each Senate must be elected from the Supreme Federal Courts (Federal Court of Justice, Federal Administrative Court, Federal Finance Court, Federal Labour Court and Federal Social Court), in order to allow the Federal Constitutional Court’s decisions to profit from their particular judicial experience. Anyone who is at least 40 years old and qualified to hold judicial office pursuant to the German Judiciary Act is eligible for election. The Justices are elected to serve a twelve-year term; retirement age is 68. To ensure their independence, there is no re-election.
The Federal Constitutional Court’s administration consists of the Judicial Administration, the General Administration, the IT/Documentation department, the Protocol department, and the Library. It is headed by the Director of the Federal Constitutional Court on behalf of the President of the Federal Constitutional Court.
The judicial sector of the Court’s administration consists of the Senate registries, the Rechtspfleger (senior judicial officers) service and the General Register.
The two Senate registries compile and manage the files, maintain the database of proceedings, and keep the diary of deadlines and oral hearings. They do the correspondence with the parties to the proceedings and serve court orders (e.g. summonses and notices of hearings) and decisions on the parties. Moreover, they manage access to the files.
The Rechtspfleger (senior judicial officers) determine the costs and remunerations for the individual proceedings and contribute to preparing oral hearings and pronouncements of judgments. They proofread Senate judgments as well as other decisions of the Court and issue the final documents.
The General Register (GR) has a registry of its own, which records and processes approximately 10,000 submissions per year. The department is headed by a desk officer who is qualified to hold judicial office. In the General Register, submissions to the Federal Constitutional Court in which the submitting party neither makes a specific procedural application nor asserts a claim falling within the competence of the Federal Constitutional Court may be recorded. These submissions are treated as a matter of judicial administration (cf. § 63(1)of the Federal Constitutional Court’s Rules of Procedure). These include in particular inquiries on the progress of pending proceedings and on the jurisprudence of the Federal Constitutional Court. The General Register also records, and replies to, expressions of opinion concerning pending or concluded proceedings.
Constitutional complaints which, according to a preliminary assessment, cannot be admitted for decision (cf. § 93a of the Federal Constitutional Court Act) because they are clearly inadmissible or, because, with due regard to the Federal Constitutional Court’s case-law, they will clearly be unsuccessful, may also be registered in the General Register. These are mainly proceedings in which the relevant deadline has not been met or the available legal remedies have not been exhausted as well as proceedings in which the facts of the case, the act of public authority that is challenged or the fundamental right that is alleged to have been violated have not been sufficiently set out. If the submitter, after having been informed about the legal situation, nevertheless seeks a judicial decision, the case is transferred to the register of proceedings and submitted to the responsible reporting Justice.
If it cannot be immediately determined which Senate has jurisdiction for a particular constitutional complaint, the complaint may preliminarily be recorded in the General Register. In practice, constitutional complaints for which other legal remedies (e.g. the complaint of violation of the right to a hearing in court or the complaint against denial of leave to appeal) are still available, are – upon request or ex officio – preliminarily recorded in the General Register as well.
The General Administration takes care of a broad array of responsibilities, including the budget, construction matters, the Court Office, the drivers, the filing department, the house management, incoming mail, the internal messenger service, personnel matters, the printing office, procurement, organisational matters, security measures and the telephone and telefax exchange.
The Federal Constitutional Court uses modern information technology to support almost all tasks that arise in the course of proceedings. A reliable and secure IT network is therefore the backbone of the internal data exchange. The Court’s IT department maintains and improves the necessary technical infrastructure, including applications. Apart from this, it ensures that external communications work flawlessly – either through secure internet access or by maintaining the technical equipment for hitch-free telecommunications.
The Documentation department records and documents decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court as well as other important materials – in particular legal literature that is relevant for constitutional law. After having been processed by the Documentation department, the decisions are published in the juris database.
One of the Protocol’s main activities is to organise the Court’s contacts to other constitutional organs and national institutions as well as to cultivate international relations to constitutional courts abroad. Apart from that, the Protocol organises major events at the Court and translates selected decisions into English.