A Guide to Swiss Courts

A Guide to Swiss Courts

Updated on Tuesday 14th January 2020

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The Swiss laws are governed by the Federal Constitution. The Federal Constitution covers all the rules that govern the good functioning of the Swiss Confederation and formulates the responsibility of each authority. At a federal level, we find the Federal Parliament, the Federal Council and the Federal Tribunals in charge of the judiciary system.

The judicial system in Switzerland is made of the Supreme Court, the Criminal Court and the Administrative Court. If you need representation, our Swiss lawyers can provide you the necessary legal assistance. Our lawyers can represent natural persons and legal entities in a wide range of cases that can be handled in the Swiss courts.


The Swiss Federal Supreme Court


The Supreme Court is the highest ranked in the judicial system of Switzerland and is established in Lausanne. The Supreme Court in Switzerland also has the purpose of being a court of appeal for cases that were handled at a cantonal level. It is generally represented by 3-5 judges, and their number can vary based on the legal case they are hearing. 

According to the Swiss Constitution, the Supreme Court can rule in cases of federal laws, public national and international laws, cantonal laws, cantonal rights, federal and cantonal corporate or political rights. It is necessary to know that the Supreme Court in Switzerland does not have jurisdiction on legal matters that were established by the Federal Parliament. 


The Swiss Criminal Court


The Criminal Court in Switzerland is the first trial instance in cases of criminal laws and is located in Bellinzona. The Swiss Criminal Court is composed of the Penal Chamber, the Appeal Chamber and a General Secretariat. It has an Office of Chief of Justice, a Plenary Assembly and an Administrative Commission acting as executive body.

The Criminal Court’s Penal Chamber rules over accusations of federal crimes specified in the Criminal Procedure Code (articles 23 and 24). This institution is in charge with reviewing criminal proceedings. Our team of lawyers in Switzerland can offer more details on the types of cases that can be heard in this court.  


What is the structure of the Swiss courts? 

We have presented up until now some of the most important courts included in the Swiss court system. However, to better understand the full structure of the Swiss judiciary system, below, those interested in this matter can read a short and comprehensive list regarding this issue. 
It is necessary to know that the Swiss court system comprises three main categories of claims – criminal law claims, civil law claims and administrative law claims. Our Swiss law firm has the necessary legal expertise to provide legal representation in any of these three main pillars of the judicial system in Switzerland, which is comprised of the following courts
  • the Swiss Federal Supreme Court is the highest court in Switzerland;
  • the Cantonal High Court, the second most important court, is the entity where criminal law and civil law cases can be heard, once they passed through municipal courts;
  • in line with the Cantonal High Court, Switzerland has the Cantonal Administrative Court, the Federal Administrative Court and the Independent Complaints Authority for Radio and Television;
  • the basis of the criminal law claims is formed by the Federal Criminal Court, the Criminal Court of 1st Instance and the Special Courts (for juvenile matters or for economic matters);
  • civil law claims can be heard in the Cantonal Courts, the District Courts or the Magistrates Courts
  • civil law claims can also be addressed to Special Courts, such as the Commercial Court, the Lease Court or the Labor Court


Is there a Swiss court protecting intellectual property? 

Intellectual property can be of high importance for any person or Swiss company that created a new product, service, idea and so on. Intellectual property is regulated under a set of legal acts and this also refers to technical innovations, which take the form of patents. In this latter case, the Swiss judicial system has established the Federal Patent Court
This type of court is especially designed for hearing cases that are related to technical innovations and it usually hears cases related to disputes (such as patent ownership, infringement of the patent rights awarded to a person or a legal entity, who can use the patent and numerous others); our team of lawyers in Switzerland can provide legal representation in such cases and can offer an in-depth presentation on the patent regulations available in this country. 

What are the fees for hearing a case in Switzerland? 

The fees for hearing a case in Switzerland vary based on the Swiss canton where the case is heard, but also on the nature of the case, and thus, based on the court where it takes place. For instance, in the situation of a litigation case on civil law matters, the court fee is established based on the value of the claim. Our team of lawyers in Switzerland can provide an extensive presentation on other fees and taxes that can be involved in this procedure, but it is necessary to know that the following will apply (in Zurich): 
  • for a claim of maximum CFH 1,000, the court cost is of CHF 250, plus a 20% of the respective sum;
  • for claims ranging between CHF 1,000-5,000, the court standard fee is of CHF 1,050 (and a percentage of 14% of the claim);
  • claims ranging from CHF 5,000-20,000 are imposed with a fee of CHF 3,150 (and an additional 8% of the claim);
  • claims with a value of CHF 20,000-80,000 are charged with a fee of CHF 7,950 (plus 4% of the claim);
  • claims with a value of CHF 300,000- 1,000,000 are charged with CHF 16,750 (plus 2% of the value of the claims);
  • claims above CHF 10,000,000 are charged with CHF 120,750 (plus 0,5% of the value of the claim). 
Besides these, parties involved in a litigation case must know that they should also pay a lawyer’s fee, which is also imposed on a progressive base, depending on the value of the claim. The exact fee charged by a lawyer in Zurich depends on different thresholds than the ones mentioned above and our team of Swiss lawyers can provide more information regarding this matter.  
In the canton of Basel, the court fee system differs widely compared to the one in Zurich; for example, small claims, with a value of less than CHF 1,000, are charged only with CHF 150 (or up to maximum CHF 180). The attorney’s fee system also differs in this canton and parties that are involved in a litigation case or any other type of case can request more details from our Swiss law firm.  

The Swiss Administrative Court


The Administrative Court in Switzerland acts as an appeal authority that reviews the rulings of the federal authorities and sometimes of cantonal authorities and is located temporarily in Berne. The Swiss Administrative Court was organized so that it could replace the boards of appeal ruling over different departments in the Federal Administration. It can rule over infrastructure, education, health, economy, and asylum issues.

At a cantonal level, the judicial system is organized in civil, criminal or administrative courts of first instance and appeals. The judges are elected for six years and can be reelected as well. If you want information about the legislative system or you simply want to start a business here, you can contact our law firm in Switzerland.