Court broadcast

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The court broadcast (also called “court show”) is a broadcast genre that deals with fictional or simulated real court cases and was at times very popular in Germany.


In Germany, sound and image recordings are  prohibited in German courts during negotiations - with the exception of arbitration negotiations and negotiations before the Federal Constitutional Court . Therefore, in the court programs either real cases are reproduced or fictitious, often unrealistic cases are staged. Court shows achieved high ratings, particularly from 1999 onwards, and are mainly broadcast on afternoon slots.

According to § 169 GVG , the hearing before the court making the decision, including the announcement of the judgments and resolutions, is public. However, according to sentence 2 of this provision, “sound and television broadcast recordings as well as sound and film recordings for the purpose of public presentation or publication of their content are not permitted”. In the case of Egon Krenz before the Berlin Regional Court , the Federal Constitutional Court had once again confirmed that the judicial authority ( Section 176 GVG) is exercised by the presiding judge primarily during the court hearing in order to ensure an orderly procedure, i.e. also the observance of those relevant to the procedure legal regulations. If the chairman enforces the legal prohibition of sound and television broadcast recordings contained in § 169 sentence 2 GVG within the negotiation and thereby ensures compliance with judicial constitutional law, he does not encroach on the protection of the fundamental right of freedom of broadcasting . Image and sound recordings are only permitted before the start of the main hearing until the matter is called .



The court withdraws to deliberation was a 79-part radio broadcast that was broadcast between 1952 and 1956, initially by the North West German Radio and, after its split, by the North German Radio . German television took up the genre with the program Das Fernsehgericht meets . The television series firstairedon March 26, 1961 and last broadcast on October 19, 1978 by First . The producing institution was the North German Broadcasting Corporation . Real cases were simulated using court filesin mock court hearings . A retired magistrate acted as judge. The prosecutor and defense attorney were portrayed by still practicing colleagues, accused and witnesses by actors. The cases - from fraud and theft to murder - were initially dealt with in three, later in two and in the end in one program.

In the ZDF television series Königlich Bayerisches Amtsgericht , broadcast between January 1969 and January 1972 , however, completely fictional cases were presented without any claim to being realistic. Rather, the conditions of the "good old days" of the Kingdom of Bavaria were presented in a comedic, idealized way. Negotiations were carried out with little regard to procedural law , and there were regular surprising turns of events and amicable agreements for the general good.

Era of ZDF

After the first stopped the TV court, until 1999 court programs could only be seen on ZDF . The first case on ZDF was heard in court on June 10, 1970 in marriages . The fictional cases this time related exclusively to marital problems. The show was discontinued on March 25, 1999 after 89 episodes.

The series How would you decide? started on February 11, 1974 with Gerd Jauch and followed the concept of the ARD TV tribunal. However, the cases were first decided by a vote of the audience and then by the judge. The results were then compared and discussed. This show was discontinued on July 12, 2000 after 165 episodes.

From October 25, 1983, ZDF broadcast Das Verkehrsgericht . In this broadcast, the accident was first shown and then the fictitious cases were heard in court. The traffic court was set on December 1, 2001 after 68 episodes.

With a dispute over three , ZDF heralded the new format of the afternoon court show on April 12, 1999. While the court programs broadcast in the evening were aimed at imparting legal knowledge and insight into the work of the judiciary, entertainment value is the focus of the afternoon court shows. In the dispute over three, the cases mostly dealt with neighborhood disputes and minor offenses, which were decided by the judges Eugen Menken and later Guido Neumann in the district court and Ulrich Volk in the labor court. Presenter Ekkehard Brandhoff conducted the show until the end of the series on April 4, 2003. He questioned opponents and the audience and then had ZDF legal expert Wolfgang Büser cite settlement judgments .

Further development of the private

From September 27, 1999, Sat.1 took up the format of the court broadcast with judge Barbara Salesch and focused even more on entertainment. Judge Barbara Salesch's court show was originally an arbitration hearing. The ban on audio and video recordings does not apply to arbitration negotiations. Therefore real cases could be negotiated with real victims. The format gained widespread public attention when Stefan Raab composed a number one hit from the original sound of the word " chain link fence ", which fell on October 12, 1999 during an arbitration hearing in Barbara Salesch's court show . However, arbitration proceedings are limited to civil disputes and are only permitted with the consent of all parties to the litigation. The "quota bringer" robbery, rape and murder were thus excluded from the negotiations. The complex civil legal questions were also more difficult to follow for the non-specialist viewer than the mostly evidence-based question of guilt in criminal cases. Therefore, the format of the broadcast was changed from October 2000 to a (criminal) court show with amateur actors . Initially started with a low audience (only eight percent market share), the program only achieved a market share of over 30 percent after switching to written cases from criminal law.

The popularity of the court program meant that up to six different court show formats competed on German television at times - especially on Sat.1 and RTL. The most successful representatives of the genre are judge Alexander Hold (Sat.1, since 2001) and judge Barbara Salesch of the Cologne film and television production filmpool , which also produced the programs The Juvenile Court and The Family Court .

Since March 2003, several of the court shows have developed offshoots . State attorneys or attorneys who appeared in the courtroom got their own television series. These programs are based on conventional crime series, but try to use camera settings and guidance to create the appearance of hidden cameras and thus a (pseudo) reality TV impression (such as with Lenßen & Partner ).

Content and structure

In a court show, fictitious cases are re-enacted in a fictitious hearing before a criminal or civil court . Most of them are criminal proceedings. At the end of the broadcast, the judge pronounces a verdict . As a rule, it is clarified which punitive measures third parties who took part in the TV hearing, for example as witnesses and who could be proven guilty, can expect.

The "television law experts" (judges, defense lawyers , public prosecutors, etc.) in the court shows are mostly real lawyers and have the necessary training and practice. The rest of the people are all amateur actors, rarely celebrities . All actors have to adhere to a script ( scripted reality ), whereby, in order for the actors to appear authentic, the text does not have to be reproduced verbatim, but only analogously. Small slip of the tongue and the mostly real nervousness of the amateur actors are welcome and increase the authenticity. A broadcast of a court show with several cases usually lasts half an hour or a full hour.


The TV court shows have little to do with the reality in German courtrooms. Especially in cases with complicated facts, the main hearing often lasts for several days or even months and is by no means dealt with in less than an hour. Real processes are much more objective and distant; No judge will tolerate spontaneous outbursts of emotions, angry shouting, wild dialogues between those involved in the process, unsolicited statements or even heckling from the audience, as they are normal in court shows. According to § 176 GVG, the judge is responsible for maintaining order in the session. According to Section 177 of the GVG, this can be enforced so that "parties, accused, witnesses, experts or persons not involved in the negotiation who do not follow the orders made to maintain order can be removed from the meeting room and taken to custody" . If these parties are guilty of an unpaid charge at the meeting, then, according to Section 178 (1) of the GVG, subject to criminal prosecution, a fine of up to EUR 1,000 or detention for up to one week can be set and enforced immediately. The fact that there is a dramatic turnaround in the situation during the main hearing and witnesses suddenly turn out to be real perpetrators is very often the case in court shows, but in reality it rarely happens because the public prosecutor's office with the help of the police or before an indictment is brought other law enforcement authorities investigate the facts, i.e. above all clarify the evidence intensively. Incidentally, the offenses dealt with in the court shows (mainly homicide and sexual offenses) only make up a negligible proportion of everyday German court life. In addition, the people involved in the television processes are more often than not members of a fringe group, such as prostitutes and the homeless . Conversely, contrary to the actual situation, the real perpetrators are more often than average people from higher social classes.

The scripts are very often similar in terms of tension. Noticeably common motifs include:

  • In the middle of the hearing, a witness bursts into the hall and interrupts the hearing, turning the case around and clearing up everything or at least helping to clear it up (cf. ancient dramaturgical figure deus ex machina ).
  • In an emotional outburst, the (true) perpetrator bursts out more or less voluntarily with a confession (“I should have hit harder back then”, “I didn't mean to harm you, it was an accident”).
  • An employee of the defense attorney, often a “private investigator”, researches and, towards the end of the hearing, presents new evidence that convicts the perpetrator. This in particular is very unrealistic, since criminal proceedings would usually be interrupted if new evidence were to be expected. In addition, it is generally unlikely that prosecutors will overlook evidence that a private investigator can easily uncover.
  • A witness recalls a crucial detail during the trial that he initially thought was not important, but eventually turned the case around. This is particularly unrealistic since in reality the judge's questions usually correspond to the questions during the previous police questioning.


The depiction described above, which is far from reality, is often criticized, as it conveys an unrealistic image of the German judiciary, especially to younger and more naive viewers. Nevertheless, the image of German jurisdiction among viewers is more realistic today than before the introduction of the court shows, as the image was previously dominated by that of US courts from various television programs ("Objection, Your Honor!", Jury). The exaggerated clichéd portrayal of the people involved in the process, especially foreigners, prostitutes and the homeless, which gives the viewer a false image, is also criticized. The former judge of the Federal Constitutional Court Winfried Hassemer said in the newspaper Die Woche that "the known insults of poor people in front of a quietly grinning public are now being consecrated to a 'decision'." These court shows are a "blow in the pit of the stomach".

Retroactive effect of the shows on real court hearings

Influenced by the dramaturgy and style elements of the court shows, it is not uncommon for television viewers to believe that court hearings are aggressive, highly emotional and eventful. In the meantime, according to judges, the phenomenon can be observed that those involved in the process and viewers behave as they are presented in the shows. This manifests itself primarily in an increase in heckling, loud expressions of opinion and outbursts of emotion, which did not exist in this form before the show emerged. Corrected by the judge, the hecklers justify themselves in part with references to court shows, such as judge Barbara Salesch , who is ultimately allowed to do so.

Court broadcasts on German-speaking radio

broadcast Channel running time
The court withdraws to deliberate NWDR / NDR 1952-1956

Court broadcasts on German-speaking television

broadcast Channel running time
The television tribunal is in session The first 1961-1978
Royal Bavarian District Court ZDF 1969-1972
Marriages in court ZDF 1970-2000
How would you decide? ZDF 1974-2000
Traffic court ZDF 1983-1998
Quarrel over three ZDF 1999-2003
Judge Barbara Salesch Sat 1 1999-2012
The juvenile court
2001–2005: Ruth Herz ,
2005–2007: Kirsten Erl
RTL 2001-2007
Judge Alexander Hold Sat 1 2001-2013
The criminal court RTL 2002-2008
The family court RTL 2002-2007

U.S. court broadcasts

While court shows are staged , court broadcasts (in the narrower sense) are the recording of actual court proceedings . Since cameras have been allowed during negotiations in the USA since January 26, 1981, real negotiations and judgments in particular are broadcast live alongside fictitious ones . Since September 14, 1981, the court show The People's Court ran with re-enacted real cases. The highlight was Court TV , founded on July 2, 1991 (since January 1, 2008: TruTV ), which had over 80 million viewers in 1994 when OJ Simpson's acquittal was broadcast live .

In addition, programs such as Judge Judy (from September 1996) or Judge Joe Brown (September 1998) are broadcast as arbitration hearings. These are not real judicial hearings, but arbitration hearings, in which judgment-awarded sums of money are paid by the production company instead of the losing party.

See also


  • Jana Scheerer: The court show as a communicative genre. A conversation analysis study using the example of the programs “Richter Alexander Hold”, “Richter Barbara Salesch” and “Das Strafgericht” . Master thesis. University of Potsdam 2007. (
  • Barbara Thym: Cultivation Through Judgment Shows . A study taking into account perceived closeness to reality, usage motives and personal experiences . Master thesis. Ludwig Maximilians University Munich 2003. (

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. BVerfG, judgment of January 24, 2001, Az .: 1 BvR 2623/95
  2. Court Shows : The Dying Genre ,, April 13, 2012.
  3. Volker Boehme-Nealer: Picture law: The power of pictures and the powerlessness of law. 2010, p. 137. (
  4. ^ A b Legal policy broadcasts on television. Interview with Bernhard Töpper / ZDF , October 29, 2004; In: Forum on Family Law of the German Bar Association. 1 + 2/2005 , p. 5. ( ( Memento from December 2, 2013 in the Internet Archive ); pdf; 103 kB)
  5. US Supreme Court, Chandler v. Florida - 449 U, p. 560 (1981)