About the Court


The history of the Constitu­tional Court is closely linked to the history of the Constitu­tion of 1921. At that time the Constitu­tional Court was something completely new.

The neighboring countries were marked by a revolu­tionary atmosphere; in Liechten­stein, the economic hardship prompted calls for change. These develop­ments led to negotia­tions, the so-called “Schlossab­mach­ungen”. On this basis, a new constitu­tion as well as the Constitu­tional Court were formed.

As part of the instruc­tions of the Prince Johann II of Liechten­stein to the Govern­ment, dated 11 September 1920, to draft an amended constitu­tion for Parlia­ment according to the Schlossab­mach­ungen, point 4 specifies the role of the Constitu­tional Court:

“Furthermore a special law shall establish a constitu­tional court as a court under public law to safeguard the rights of citizens, to decide upon conflicts of jurisdic­tion and to serve as a disciplinary court for public officials.” [Rupert Quaderer, p. 188, in: Vaterländi­sche Union (ed.), Die Schlossab­mach­ungen vom September 1920]

Three days later, politici­ans called for the majority of the Constitu­tional Court’s judges to hold Liechten­stein citizenship, as well as for judg­ments of the Constitu­tional Court on "prejudicial constitu­tional ques­tions" to be cassatory. Owing to national reputa­tion, they likewise reque­sted the president of the Constitu­tional Court to be a native of Liechten­stein.

The new Constitu­tion of 5 October 1921 met the demands of the Schlossab­mach­ungen, which were hard and, in part, fiercly won. It entered into force on 5 October 1921.


New constitu­tion

„The new Constitu­tion of Liechten­stein of 5 October 1921 shifted the balance sub­stantially: Whereas the old Constitu­tion of 1862 stressed the role of the Prince in light of the monarchical principle, the new Constitu­tion defined the form of govern­ment as a `constitu­tional, hereditary monarchy on a democratic and parlia­mentary basis with the power of the State embodied in the Reigning Prince and the People`. Whilst the Prince waived a number of previous prerogatives, he simultaneously retained a set of sub­stantial powers.” [Peter Geiger, Krisenzeit, 2nd ed., Vaduz 2000, volume 1, p. 67]

The judiciary was completely re-organised. In doing so, new courts were established:

“All courts of law took up residence in Liechten­stein and were further strengthened: The Court of First Instance, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, as well as the Constitu­tional Court and the Supreme Admini­strative Court. The earlier foreign courts in Austria were eliminated. Foreign judges, elected by Parlia­ment, were sought from Austria and Switzerland to complete the judicial senates.” [Peter Geiger, ibid., p. 68]


Setting up the Constitu­tional Court

Even though the Constitu­tion of 5 October 1921 had established the Constitu­tional Court, it was not func­tional, because the cor­responding law was missing. The preparatory work was delayed on account of the workload which burdened the authorities as well as the two authors, Wilhelm Beck and Emil Beck.

Considerable groundwork came in the form of the Code of Admini­strative Procedure (Landes­verwal­tungs­pfle­ge­ge­setz) of 1922; only in summer 1925, howe­ver, a draft law as well as a committee report were submitted. It its session of 5 November 1925, Parlia­ment discussed and approved the Law on the Constitu­tional Court (Staats­gerichtshof­ge­setz). On 14 December 1925, the law was signed by Prince Johann II of Liechten­stein. 14 days later, Parlia­ment elected the first judges of the Constitu­tional Court. With all this in place, the Constitu­tional Court could start its work.


Milestones in jurisprudence

Throughout the following years, the Constitu­tional Court dealt with few, but at times highly significant cases:

In 1931, the Consti­tional Court faced its first litmus test on account of impeach­ment proceedings: Aga­inst the backdrop of natural disa­sters and economic dep­ression, the bank scandal (Spar­kassenskandal) of 1928 brought Liechten­stein close to bankruptcy. With responsibility for the criminal acts of bank employees attributed to the People`s Party, Parlia­ment - who was dominated by the Citizens` Party - brought char­ges aga­inst the former Head of Govern­ment, Gustav Schädler.

Apart from two foreign judges (an attorney from St Gall and a judge of the regional court in Feldkirch), the judicial senate was composed solely of persons who were closely aligned with the Citizens` Party. Nonetheless, the Constitu­tional Court acquitted the former Head of Govern­ment from the politically motivated char­ges and thereby proved its independence.

The impeach­ment proceedings aga­inst Gustav Schädler have remained the only instance where a member of Govern­ment was brought before the Constitu­tional Court.

Other than that, the Constitu­tional Court received few complaints, which continued to be case also after 1945. In particular with regard to individual constitu­tional complaints aga­inst decisions of ordinary courts, the Constitu­tional Court restrained itself. Until the beginning of the 1960s, the assess­ment of viola­tions of funda­mental rights was restricted to whether the courts had acted arbitrarlily.

In the following years, the Constitu­tional Court developed a more nuanced under­standing of funda­mental rights, by which he joined the interna­tional trajectory. Of major importance for this shift in perspective was Liechten­stein`s accession to the European Conven­tion on Human Rights (ECHR). Similar to other states with a prog­ressive under­standing of funda­mental rights, the Constitu­tional Court has held that the ECHR enjoys a quasi-constitu­tional rank.

Today, the jurisprudence of the Constitu­tional Court is largely in accordance with the European Court of Human Rights and takes further inspira­tion from the German Bundes­verfas­sungs­gericht, the Austrian Verfas­sungs­gerichtshof and the Swiss Bundes­gericht.

Liechten­stein`s accession to the European Economic Area (EEA) proved to be a jurisprudential challenge. The Constitu­tional Court found that, in principle, EEA law enjoys precedence over national law insofar as basic principles and the essence of the Constitu­tion are respected. In this regard, the Constitu­tional Court has already repealed national norms on account of being contrary to EEA law.


Constitu­tional develop­ments

Since 1921, the Constitu­tion of Liechten­stein has been amended multiple times. With respect to the Constitu­tional Court, the constitu­tional amend­ment of 2003 (see LGBl. 2003 No. 186) was particularly significant. Among other major chan­ges, the Constitu­tional Court was given the competence to assess the constitu­tionality of interna­tional treaties.

What is more, a novel procedure for electing judges was introduced: Chaired by the Prince and composed of members chosen by parlia­mentary groups, the Govern­ment and the Prince, a joint body for the selec­tion of judges proposes suitable candidates to Parlia­ment. Upon being elected by Parlia­ment, the Prince appoints the candidates as judges.

In the aftermath of the constitu­tional amend­ment of 2003, Parlia­ment enacted a new Law on the Constitu­tional Court (Staats­gerichtshof­ge­setz), which provides a contemporary legal basis for its proceedings.