The AfD takes legal action against the controversial practice of the Federal Constitutional Court of informing a group of journalists in advance and confidentially about its judgments. As the administrative court in Karlsruhe confirmed on Tuesday, a corresponding action by the party has been received (3 K 606/21). The AfD wants to let it be established that such a procedure was unlawful before a verdict was pronounced last summer on Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) and violated the AfD’s right to a fair trial.
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In the application, which is available to the Tagesspiegel, it is said that the “betrayal” of the court also violates the general personal rights of party members who appear as plaintiffs before the Federal Constitutional Court. The court has a duty of care towards them. The best way is a “total ban” of such a practice, as it also applies in other courts. With the Karlsruhe ruling in June 2020 after a so-called organ dispute, Seehofer was prohibited from publishing an AfD-critical press interview with him on the ministry’s website.
Initiates must keep quiet until the announcement
A few days before the announcement, the Tagesspiegel reported for the first time on the practice of judicial advance information, which had existed for years but had been kept secret by all those involved up to this point. Accordingly, only members of an association of justice correspondents working in Karlsruhe, the “Justice Press Conference”, receive the press releases on judgments in advance; the journalists, including numerous from ARD and ZDF, can use it to prepare their reporting, but must undertake to maintain silence until the official announcement.
The AfD criticizes an imbalance between its members, who appear more frequently before the constitutional court as those involved in the process, and the journalists who are informed in advance in this way. Some of these would question the politicians in front of the cameras immediately before the verdict was announced. One could easily get the impression that the interviewees are not up to the “well-informed” media people “both intellectually and legally”. The information advantage would be “exploited on television and presented with relish” in order to portray AfD representatives litigating as “ignorant, uninformed, overwhelmed and alienated with constitutional law”.
The urgent procedure in the matter was lost for the AfD
In the summer, the AfD had initially tried an urgent application to the administrative court, but it failed. A disadvantage in political competition was not recognizable from the advance information, it was said at the time. In the urgent procedure, however, a case is only examined in summary and not examined in detail. At that time, the party waived a complaint to the Higher Administrative Court and is now initiating what are known as main proceedings.
In addition to the AfD, the Greens and FDP criticized the advance information. The CDU MP Heribert Hirte also pointed out that those involved in the process would be “demonstrated” through the practice. The press council called for the media to be treated equally in the distribution of judicial information. The German Association of Journalists called the procedure “strange and no longer up-to-date”.
Nevertheless, after an internal vote, the Constitutional Court decided to stick to its approach. A request from the Tagesspiegel to participate in advance information without membership in the “judicial press conference” was also rejected. The restriction to a group of “particularly competent and trustworthy journalists” is justified. Anyone who, as a media representative, also wants privileged access must first become a member of the association. The prerequisite for this, in turn, is to be regularly present in Karlsruhe.