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Law made simple

Making the law accessible

German law is regarded as complex and hard to understand. In order to improve the clarity of the law for citizens, the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection launched a project with wirksam regieren. In the project’s first phase, citizens were asked about their use of legal texts and how easy they found them to understand. The survey showed that when they had a legal problem, up to 40 percent of the citizens questioned consulted the original legal texts they felt were relevant to them. At the same time, they felt that the legal texts were “rather hard to understand”. The most frequent topic they looked for in legal texts on was tenancy law. A second project phase aims to come up with concrete proposals for improvements in an area of the law of relevance to the citizens.

Gesetzestexte, Recht, Justiz, BGB, Gesetzesbücher

Legal texts

Photo: Bundesregierung/Stutterheim

The citizens are not very satisfied with the clarity of the law

The starting-point for this project was the life events survey carried out by the Federal Statistical Office since 2015 on behalf of the Federal Government. This survey looks at citizens’ satisfaction with public services. Citizens are least satisfied with the clarity of the law as compared to other aspects of public service. The Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection therefore started a joint project with wirksam regieren, initially to get a better idea of how the citizens use and understand the law and then to make practical improvements in an area of the law of relevance to the citizens.

Surveys show how various user groups get information about legal issues and how they use legal texts

To answer this and other questions, four complementary surveys were carried out with legal laypeople and professional practitioners of law.

In the first phase of the two-stage project, the aim was to find out how citizens get information about legal issues, how comprehensible they find the law, and what areas of the law they research particularly often. To get answers to these questions, four surveys, which built on each other, were carried out: one with a representative cross-section of the population, one with users of online legal platforms and two with tenants and landlords on tenancy law. A second project phase aims to come up with concrete proposals for improvements in an area of the law of relevance to the citizens.

Citizens used the original texts of laws to find answers to their legal questions; the most frequently consulted topic was tenancy law

In the survey of a representative section of the population, 40 percent of citizens said they had read the text of the relevant law when trying to find an answer to a legal question. So it is clear that laws are read not only by practitioners of law.

However, the citizens said that they found the legal texts hard to understand. This view was shared by professional practitioners of law and by jurists.

In all groups surveyed, a majority found that citizens should understand at least those laws which directly affect them.

Difficulties in understanding the texts were due in particular to long, complicated sentences, the abstract nature of laws, the specialist vocabulary used and the many cross-references in the texts. Citizens most often looked at tenancy law.

On behalf of the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection