About the Court

History

The history of the Constitu­tional Court is closely linked to the history of the Constitu­tion of 1921. The Constitu­tional Court was completely new in the light of the 1921 constitu­tion’s forerunners.

The neighboring countries were marked by the economic dep­ressions’ revolu­tionary atmosphere which gave way to calls for change and reform in Liechten­stein too. Finally, these develop­ments led to negotia­tions, the so-called “Schlossab­mach­ungen”, i.e. agree­ments made in the Castle of Vaduz between the Prince and rep­resentatives of the Peoples Party. The respective decisions func­tioned as the base­ment for the conceptualiza­tion of a new constitu­tion and thus for the Constitu­tional Court.

The resolu­tion of September 11, 1920 by the Prince John II of Liechten­stein mandated the govern­ment to propose a new draft constitu­tion to the Diet on the grounds of the Schlossab­mach­ungen. The fourth sec­tion of the resolu­tion descri­bed the Constitu­tional Court as following:

“…further, a special law shall establish a Constitu­tional Court as a court of public law to safeguard citizens’ rights, to decide upon disputes over competences and to enforce disciplinary jurisdic­tion over public officials…” [Rupert Quaderer, Die Schlossab­mach­ungen vom September 1920, Studien und Quellen zur politi­schen Geschichte des Fürstentums Liechten­stein im früheren 20. Jahrhundert, Vaterländi­sche Union 1996, p. 188].

Three days later, the politici­ans called for the majority of the Constitu­tional Court’s judges to hold Liechten­stein’s citizenship, as well as for verdicts on judicial review to be of a cassatory nature. The president of the Constitu­tional Court needed to be a native-born Liechten­steiner in order to preserve the state’s sovereignty.

The new constitu­tion of October 5, 1921 met the demands issued by the Schlossab­mach­ungen and entered into force on October 24, 1921.


 

The new constitu­tion

„…the Constitu­tion of Liechten­stein of October 5, 1921 prioritized new aspects: whereas the old constitu­tion of 1862 distributed the majority of powers to the Prince in accordance with the monarchical principle, the new constitu­tion foresaw a state which had been defined as a “constitu­tional hereditary monarchy on democratic and parlia­mentary grounds” and which’s power were “dualistically rooted within the Prince and the people”. The Prince waived a number of previous powers but simultaneously retained a set of sub­stantial powers…” [Peter Geiger, Krisenzeit, Liechten­stein in den Dreissi­gerjahren 1928 - 1939, 2.Aufl., Vaduz Zürich 2000, Band 1, P. 67]

The judiciary was completely re-organized. In the realm of public law, new courts were established.

“…finally, the judicial authorities were gathered in the country and extended: County Court, Appellate Court and Supreme Court, as well as Constitu­tional Court and an admini­strative body of appeal. The previously used Austrian Courts were no longer referred to, yet foreign judges of Austria and Switzerland were called upon by the Diet to comple­ment Liechten­stein’s college of judge …” [Peter Geiger, Krisenzeit, Liechten­stein in den Dreissi­gerjahren 1928 - 1939, 2.Aufl., Vaduz Zürich 2000, Band 1, P. 68].


 

The Establish­ment of the State Court

The Constitu­tion of October 5, 1921 established the Constitu­tional Court, but it was not yet func­tioning. given that the respective law has not been promulgated yet .The prepara­tion were delayed due to massive work-load burdened by its two authors, Dr. Wilhelm Beck and Dr. Emil Beck.

Considerable groundwork was done in the context of the Admini­strative Procedure Law Act of 1922 (Landes­verwal­tungs­pfle­ge­ge­setz), but a draft for the Constitu­tional Court Act (Staats­gerichtshof­ge­setz) as well as a committee report were submitted only during the summer of 1925. The Diet passed the Constitu­tional Court Act during a session on November 5, 1925. The act was sanc­tioned by Prince John II on December 14, 1925. 14 days later, the Diet elected the first members of the Constitu­tional Court. Finally, the Constitu­tional Court could start its work.


 

The Milestones of Judicature

For the time being, the Constitu­tional Court was tasked with relatively few, but often important cases.

The Court experienced its first litmus test when an impeach­ment process was set on its agenda in 1931. Aga­inst the backdrop of natural disa­sters and economic dep­ression, the tru­stee savings bank scandal (Spar­kassenskandal) of 1928 brought Liechten­stein close to bankruptcy. The Peoples Party was considered to be responsible for the criminal actions which had led to the bank scandal. Thus the Diet – as dominated by the Citizens Party – brought a charge of viola­tion of the law aga­inst the Peoples Party’s former head of govern­ment Gustav Schädler in 1931.

The defendant was acquitted although the judges committee was (apart from an attorney of St. Gallen/Switzerland and a judge of the neighboring First Instance Court in Feldkirch/Austria) set up mainly of judges who had been considered as linked to the Citizens Party. This judg­ment was thus viewed as an evidence of the courts independence – the first litmus test was passed.

Whereas the charge aga­inst the former head of govern­ment Gustav Schädler remained the only impeach­ment process, the Constitu­tional Court has been tasked with several constitu­tional complaints and judicial reviews.

Yet, the number of constitu­tional complaints remained relatively low, also after 1945. From today’s perspective, the Constitu­tional Court appeared rather reserved vis-à-vis matters of citizen’s admini­strative complaints or claims on viola­tions of their funda­mental rights. Until the 1960s, the funda­mental-rights monitoring was limited to verdicts on arbitrariness.

For the years to come, the Constitu­tional Court developed a far more intensive monitoring of funda­mental right and displayed a differentiated approach. Therewith, the court followed interna­tional develop­ments. Especially Liechten­stein’s accession to the European Charta on Human Rights effected these develop­ments. The Constitu­tional Court explained that the European Charta of Human Right can be regarded as a docu­ment of quasi constitu­tional character. Hence, the Court joined the community of other likeminded states with a prog­ressive judicature on funda­mental rights.

Today, the monitoring of funda­mental rights almost parallels the judicature of the European Court of Human Rights, further orienta­tion stems from the constitu­tional courts of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.

Liechten­stein’s accession to the European Economic Area (EEA) constituted a challenge for the judicature. The court ruled that EEA provisions shall prevail over national provisions as long as they do not violate funda­mental rights and principles of the constitu­tion. Further, national laws which had juxtaposed the content of the EEA were annulled.


 

Constitu­tional Amend­ments

From 1921 onwards, the Constitu­tion of the Principality of Liechten­stein has witnessed numerous amend­ments. With regard to the constitu­tional court, the amend­ment of 2003 (LGBl. 2003, Nr. 186) is of considerable importance. The amend­ment introduced a couple of novelties, i.e. interna­tional treaties can now be scrutinized for conformity with constitu­tional provisions.

Further, a special procedure on judge selec­tion, which also applies for the Constitu­tional Court, was introduced: a judge-selec­tion committee which is presided by the Prince and composed of members of the Diet’s frac­tions and the govern­ment, sug­gests candidates to the Diet. If the candidate gets elected, he or she will be appointed judge by the Prince.

Finally, a new version of the Constitu­tional Court Act was promulgated in the aftermath of the constitu­tional amend­ment. The new Constitu­tional Court Act provides the Constitu­tional Court with modern and timely procedural laws.