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[Translate to Englisch:] historische Gebäude von außen - Bundesfinanzhof

History of the
Federal Fiscal Court

100 years RFH/BFH

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100 years RFH/BFH

Find out more about the history of the Federal Fiscal Court from the end of the 15th century to the present day and about the historic building.

As early as the end of the 15th century, the Imperial Chamber Court had jurisdiction to settle financial disputes over the first general Imperial tax.
After the dissolution of the old empire in 1806, the constitutional changes gradually resulted in the separate development of ordinary and administrative jurisdiction. In most countries this resulted in the fundamental tax competence of administrative courts. Since then, efforts have also been initiated to make the fiscal jurisdiction independent.

First steps towards an independent tax jurisdiction

In the middle of the 19th century, the concept of an independent tax jurisdiction was first legally implemented in Baden. In 1848, laws were passed there concerning the establishment of cadastres and tax courts of assizes. The tax courts provided for therein were independent of the tax authorities and had to decide on tax matters as the last instance.

In the second half of the 19th century, the idea of judicial control of the activities of the tax authorities then gained acceptance in almost all German states. Administrative courts were created as the highest instance for all administrative disputes and thus also for the field of taxation, which was largely a matter for the Länder. However, the Reich Court of Justice was the last instance of jurisdiction for Reich taxes under the Inheritance Tax Act, the Reich Stamp Act and the Act on Passenger and Goods Transport Taxes. For other important levies, namely the military levy, war taxes and property levies, the regulation of judicial control was left to the respective state laws. For this reason, the regional administrative courts and the Reich Court of Justice had to decide on matters at the last instance. Legal protection in tax matters was therefore deemed to be inconsistent and confusing.

During the First World War, the Reich's tax revenue sources had to be increased considerably, including by levying a general indirect tax, the turnover tax, which was initially introduced in 1916 in the form of a turnover tax stamp. This resulted in the need to create a Supreme Court of Justice, whose decisions were intended to maintain uniformity in the application of important Reich tax laws for the entire territory of the Reich. As a result, the law of 26 July 1918 on the Reich Fiscal Court was enacted towards the end of the imperial era, putting it on an equal footing with the Reich Court in every respect.

Competence of the Reich Fiscal Court

With effect from 01 October 1918, the Reich Fiscal Court was not only entrusted with the final decision on turnover tax matters, but also with other Reich levies, such as the military levy, property taxes, war levies, inheritance tax, transfer taxes and coal tax. However, customs and excise duties were not yet covered by the judicial decisions of the Reich Fiscal Court.

Establishment of fiscal courts as "lower instance"

The Reich Fiscal Code, which came into force in 1919, established the fiscal courts as a lower instance. Its members were guaranteed judicial independence. However, they had to perform administrative tasks in addition to jurisdiction. In organisational terms, the fiscal courts remained integrated into the state tax offices.

Reasons for the name, seat of the Court

The name "Reichsfinanzhof" (Reich Fiscal Court) was chosen because of its "better and fuller sound" compared to "Reichssteuergerichtshof”. The word 'fiscal' was also intended to indicate that not only 'tax' matters but also other matters relating to fiscal charges could be brought before that court. The word 'Gericht' had also been omitted because the Reich Fiscal Court additionally had to provide expert opinions outside of legal disputes at the request of the Reich Chancellor and the supreme tax authorities. This also applied to the Federal Fiscal Court until 1963.

Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Leipzig and Strasbourg were discussed as the seat of the court. The decision was finally made in the favour of Munich.

Establishment of further senates at the Reich Fiscal Court

Two senates were created at the Reich Fiscal Court on 12 October 1918. The Real Privy Councillor His Excellency Gustav Jahn (previously Under State Secretary in the Reich Treasury) was appointed President of the Court and Chairman of the II Senate. In the years 1920 to 1922 four more senates were established.

The I Senate developed its jurisdiction primarily in the field of corporate income tax, the II Senate in the field of transaction taxes, the III Senate in valuation and wealth tax law, the V Senate in turnover tax law, the IV and VI Senates in income tax and trade tax law.

The dark chapter in the history of the Reich Fiscal Court began with the assumption of power by the Nazis. The second President of the Reich Fiscal Court, the internationally highly respected Prof. Dr. Herbert Dorn, was forced out of office because of his Jewish descent and emigrated to the USA via Switzerland and Cuba. Other judges had to leave the court for the same reason. The judges Rolf Grabower and Franz Oppens were deported to concentration camps.

After the unexpected death of the third President of the Court, Dr Richard Kloss, who had not even been able to exercise this office for one year, the fourth President of the Court, Dr Ludwig Mirre, was appointed on 1 April 1935. After the end of the war he was arrested, demoted and dismissed from office.

In the years from 1933 onwards, the required commitment to both law and justice was only limited. The Tax Adjustment Act decreed that the assessment of legal facts was to be based on Nazi ideology. On this basis, the Reich Ministry of Finance regarded the Reich Fiscal Court as its accessory. It was to examine whether the regulations which came into force before 1933 were in line with Nazi ideology and, if not, to reinterpret them accordingly.

The Reich Fiscal Court, as an independent body of tax administration by law, increasingly subordinated itself to the will of the Reich Ministry of Finance. As the extended arm of the Reich Ministry of Finance, many injustices were committed above all against taxable persons of Jewish descent as well as against churches, religious communities and clerical orders. Mirre established a special Senate VIa for the tax affairs of churches, religious communities and spiritual orders, which he presided over himself. Although many judgments of the Reich Fiscal Court from that time are technically unobjectionable, the way in which other decisions were made and the reasons given for them is both incomprehensible and shameful. To date, there has been no scholarly analysis of the activities of the Reich Fiscal Court during the Nazi regime.

President of the Reich Fiscal Court:

  • Jahn, Gustav, Real Privy Councillor, from 01 October 1918 to 31 December 1930
  • Prof. Dorn, Jul. Herbert, from 22 January 1931 to 31 December 1933
  • Dr Kloss, Richard, from 01 January 1934 to 01 December 1934
  • Dr. Mirre, Ludwig, from 01 April 1935 to April 1945

Supreme Fiscal Court assumes jurisdiction in tax, customs and excise matters

The notion of a separate supreme court for tax law remained alive after the Second World War. The Free State of Bavaria continued the tradition of the old Reich Fiscal Court and its organisation in the form of the Supreme Fiscal Court, limited to taxes falling within the jurisdiction of Bavaria and its territorial sovereignty. This created the conditions to re-establish a supreme court for tax and customs matters as soon as possible.

Dr Heinrich Schmittmann President of the Supreme Fiscal Court

As early as 25 July 1945, the former Senate President of the Reich Fiscal Court, Dr. Heinrich Schmittmann, was appointed President of the Supreme Fiscal Court. From 1947, this court was also the supreme tax court for the entire American zone.

Limited jurisdiction of the Supreme Fiscal Court

In contrast, there was no supreme court for tax matters in the British and French zones. In the British zone, it was rather the then Central Revenue Commissioners' Office which acted as the appellate authority.

(Statutory) basis

With the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany, it became possible again to establish a supreme tax court with nationwide jurisdiction.

Under Article 108(6) of the Basic Law, the fiscal jurisdiction is uniformly regulated by federal law. As such a regulation required a considerable amount of time, partly because of the Länder's responsibility for their own fiscal jurisdiction, the law of 29 June 1950 was adopted in advance (only) via the Federal Fiscal Court. The Federal Fiscal Court then took up its activities with effect from 01 October 1950. It was the first of the Supreme Courts of the Federation referred to in Article 95 of the Basic Law.

Name and seat of the Court

The name "Bundesfinanzhof” (Federal Fiscal Court) was chosen on the basis of the previous name "Reichsfinanzhof” (Reich Fiscal Court). Munich was retained as the location because the existing building was appropriately furnished and offered an excellently equipped library.

Departmental affiliation of the Federal Fiscal Court

Before 1970, the Federal Fiscal Court was under the organisational control of the Federal Minister of Finance, which sometimes led to the (unjustified) accusation of "domestic jurisdiction". Like the Federal Court of Justice and the Federal Administrative Court, it is now attached to the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (the Federal Labour Court and the Federal Social Court belong to the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs).

Presidents of the Federal Fiscal Court:

  • Dr Schmittmann, Heinrich from 21 October 1950 to 30 April 1951
  • Dr Müller, Hans from 01 May 1951 to 31 December 1954
  • Dr Heßdörfer, Ludwig from 01 March 1955 to 31 January 1962
  • Dr. h.c. Mersmann, Wolfgang from 21 May 1962 to 30 June 1970
  • Prof. Dr. von Wallis, Hugo from 01 July 1970 to 30 April 1978
  • Prof. Dr. List, Heinrich from 01 May 1978 to 31 March 1983
  • Prof. Dr. Klein, Franz from 01 April 1983 to 30 September 1994
  • Prof. Dr. Offerhaus, Klaus from 01 October 1994 to 31 October 1999
  • Dr Ebling, Iris from 05 November 1999 to 31 May 2005
  • Dr. h.c. Spindler, Wolfgang from 01 June 2005 to 31 March 2011
  • Prof. Dr. h.c. Mellinghoff from 31 October 2011 to 31 July 2020

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