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Legal System

Switzerland - Legal System

When in Switzerland, remember that a different legal system will apply. As a brief overview, legislation in Switzerland is approved by Parliament and adjudicated by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court (G: Schweizerisches Bundesgericht, F: Tribunal fédéral) or, in insurance-related cases only, the Federal Insurance Court (G: Eidgenössisches Versicherungsgericht, F: Tribunal fédéral des assurances). The Federal Supreme Court has a comparable role to the U.S. Supreme Court, however the court in Lucerne is the only federal court. In adjudicating cases, the Federal Supreme Court cannot normally overrule federal statutes unless (rarely) these are deemed to be in direct violation of human rights, but can call legislation set by cantons into question. There are however periodic reviews of legislation, with many new laws having come into force on 1 January 2011 concerning a variety of issues ranging from privacy to war crimes, and from minimum wages for cleaners to the prevention of marriages of illegal immigrants in Switzerland.

The cantonal laws are determined by each individual canton, rather like state legislation in the United States. This is unlike the UK, where national legislation for England and Wales applies to all residents of those countries, and likewise Scottish law is applicable to residents of Scotland, with no significant legal powers exercised by counties or other regional sub-divisions.

The legal languages of Switzerland are, at a federal level, standard German, French, and Italian. Cantons have one or more official local languages which will be used for cantonal legislation. If you are confident in reading German, French, or Italian you may conduct an electronic search of the Classified Compilation of Federal Legislation (G: Systematische Sammlung des Bundesrechts, F: Recueil systématique du droit fédéral) to examine the Acts and Ordinances currently in effect. You will find that a translation has been provided in English on the site but, as stated there, this is for information purposes only and should not be considered as legally binding. If you lack fluency in an official Swiss language you should take professional legal advice to avoid misinterpretation of the law.

Switzerland has a variety of bar associations at cantonal level plus a Swiss Bar Association (G: Schweizerische Anwaltsverband, F: Fédération Suisse des Avocats) at federal level. Likewise, there are many cantonal and several federal law associations. If seeking a legal professional, you can use an online search on the website of the Swiss Bar Association or other online directories such as the EU Lawyers & Solicitors Directory. Alternatively, use a general location-based search directory such as gate24.ch which has a Law/Finances/Property section, within which you can find Law/Lawyer/Notary listings for your location.

For minor tenancy law issues, you can use the mediation services of your local Tenants Association (G: Mieterverband, F: Association des locataires).

Crimes in Switzerland that are not punishable by prison sentences normally attract fines, and these may be levied according to your ability to pay. While many laws are strictly imposed, a blind eye is sometimes turned to minor misdemeanours. However, do not count on the authorities showing leniency simply because you are a foreigner. In a culture that thrives on respect, you can also find your behaviour being verbally corrected by concerned Swiss citizens.

Useful Resources

Swiss Bar Association
Schweizerischer Anwaltsverband, Marktgasse 4, Postfach 8321, CH 3001 Bern
Tel: +41 31 313 06 06
Email: info@swisslawyers.com

Classified Compilation of Federal Legislation

Electronic Search for a Lawyer (by location)

Location-based Search Directory in English

Read more about this country

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