Hamburg Petitions Process

Dr. Christine Wellums forwarded the text of the presentation by Heike Lilie, the Juristin for Hamburg’s petitions committee (Sachbearbeiterin Eingabendienst).  Thanks to both Heike and Christine for sending this along.

Dear American guests and colleagues,

My name is Heike. I am a graduate in law and a member of the law department of the administration since 1998. My main job is to support the Petitions Committee – the “Eingabenausschuss” – of the Hamburg Parliament – the “Bürgerschaft”.

Christine Wellems told me you are mainly interested how our beautiful library and the Information Service Department can help me to do my work. For better understanding I’d like to give you an idea about the work of the Petitions Committee and my role first and than explain afterwards how my colleagues and I use the Information Service Department.

As I already said, I work for the Petitions Committee. The Petitions Committee is the relevant body for citizens to present a petition or complaint on any matters of public administration in Hamburg. It works to promote their interests by eliminating bureaucratic obstacles and resistance, and by helping them to achieve success where they have justified claims.

Anybody can make use of the right of petition: adults and minors, Germans and people from other countries, but also prisoners and legally incapable persons. The right to make petitions is specified in Article 17 German Basic Law. Citizens can address the Petitions Committee on their own behalf or for third parties. Because of the general right it is easy to exercise: the only requirement is a submission in writing and must bear signature with name and address. In Hamburg petitions ‘online’ are not possible yet, differently from the ‘Bundestag’ and some other Parliaments of the (Federal states) ‘Länder’.

The Petitions Committee handles a very wide range of petitions. The main focus (one third) are matters concerning foreigners. Most of these petitions are made with the purpose of avoiding extradition, that means to be allowed to stay in Hamburg at least on a temporary basis.

For better understanding I’d like to tell two practical examples:

A Gambian citizen wanted to remain in Germany. Here he lived together with his German life companion, who is deaf mute. Both were not married, but had two common children.
The woman supported his desire, since he was “ear and eye” of the family – so she said -. It was reached by the petition that the father took up contact to the youth welfare office. There he requested the custody for the children. As owner of the custody he can now further live in Germany.

Many other petitions concern the social right. In one case for example a 32 year old handicapped person was still living with his mother. He was paid for his work at the workshop for handicapped persons. His mother received social welfare assistance for unemployed persons. Because of his handicap he was also paid child benefit. This financial support was taken into account as own income of the handicapped young man. On the other hand it was however forgotten that the young man would have to pay actually also a rent for his flat. Regarding the relevant jurisdiction the Petitions Committee exerted itself for a new – better – calculation of the benefits.

The Committee itself is appointed by the Hamburg Parliament at the beginning of each legislative period. It currently comprises 21 Members of the Hamburg Parliament – of whom 11 are from CDU Parliamentary Group, 7 from the SPD Group, and 3 from the GAL Group.

The Committee has about 60 meetings each year. In recent years on average it dealt with about 800 petitions per annum.

So: what is my job?

After a petition has reached the Administration of the Petitions Committee – us, the ‘Petitions Service’ of the Bürgerschaftskanzlei – it is forwarded to the Senate – the Executive – for a statement. At the same time, a member of the Petitions Committee appointed as Rapporteur for a given petition is informed of the presentation.

When the statement of the Senate is released I have to submit a legal examination. At that time, the Information Service Department is asked for support. The legal examination starts with a look into the law regulation. A collection of standard-law is provided and up-dated by the library. We also can use law ‘online’ (mainly the databases “Juris” and “Beckonline”, two German legal databases) , but I prefer copies in paper. Both databases are in the Intranet of the whole administration and government in Hamburg (some 80.000 members of staff) and are paid for by the Department of Finance.

At that time my work begins: normally law-rules aren’t quite clear. Otherwise no lawyers are needed. So to find out whether the facts of the case are ruled by a special law-regulation, I have to evaluate judgments of different courts or commentaries on the law, which explain the rules. Although many things can be studied online by internet already, some are so special, that I need the library for to take a look into the commentary-books. It’s the same with specialized journal magazines. Here are many of them.

If there is a hint to a special journal or a book which isn’t offered by the library yet, I can ask a librarian. They try to get it as soon as possible from elsewhere – I don’t know. The Information Service Department is also able to get General Administrative Regulations which aren’t released for the public. That also will be possible, if other ‘Länder’ (federal states) are concerned.

The other day for example I asked for an article in a special journal. That journal is not available in any library in Hamburg. Nevertheless a librarian succeeded in getting it from a library in Güstrow, a little town Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (New Länder).

Very important for my work for the Parliament is the database system for the parliamentary papers of the Bürgerschaft. The ending of my legal examination is a proposal how the Petitions Committee should vote on the Petitioner’s request. But the decision of the Petitions Committee is a political one and not a verdict. So I have to take into consideration the political aspects as well as the lawful ones. For that it is important to know which subjects are issues of current political discussion. In that case the Information Service Department offers indispensable assistance too: by using a data bank system you can find any parliamentary paper and procedure including the debates and decisions. You can search by number, by search word, by descriptor or by author. Related to each Printed Paper the data bank system offers the current state of the political discussion, for example the progress of deliberations in the concerning Committee or the Parliament. This current state may influence my proposal for the Petitions Committee.

Every Petition will be consulted by the members of the Petitions Committee. Although there are about 60 sittings each year, there are not for public because of the intimate information about the Petitioners. Each single Petition is consulted and voted on its own by the Petitions Committee. As a result of the sitting a report is produced which contains the vote to each Petition. The report gets a number as a Printed Paper; the Hamburg Parliament (Bürgerschaft) makes the final decision on treatment of the Petition. The decision by the Hamburg Parliament is then communicated to the Petitioner in writing by the Chairperson of the Petitions Committee. He states the reasons of the decision as well. This completes the petition procedure.

The resolutions most frequently recommended are ‘not capable of remedy’ (“nicht abhilfefähig”), normally because the behaviour of the administration was not a fault.
Only some few petitions are successful. In that case for example the Petition is referred to the Government, coupled with the request that it take remedial action because the petitioner’s concern is justified and the situation needs to be remedied.

But it is to remember that the Petitions Committee or rather the Bürgerschaft only can make a recommendation. That means that the Government can decide on its own if it wants to follow the recommendation or not. Although the decisions of the Petitions Committee are normally unanimous, that means every parliamentary group agree on the recommendation, sometimes the Government doesn’t follow. In that case there is no legal instrument to make the Government changes its mind. The petition proceeding has finished with the resolution of the Parliament – the Bürgerschaft.

The only job left for us to do than is to give knowledge to the Petitions Committee and the Parliament about the result of the recommendation. The result is put in a report of the Petitions Committee which is forwarded to the Parliament for its information. At least the Chairperson of the Petitions Committee gives an information to the Petitioner about the result.

So I hope I could give you a short overview on my tasks and my use of the library as one client of the administration. Thanks that you listened to me.

If you have any questions please ask…