Comparative Constitutional Law Academy

by: Farooq Yousaf

“Erfurt Hosts the Americans”

Comparative Constitutional Law Academy

March 11 – 16, 2013

Erfurt – Karlsruhe – Strasbourg

The Willy Brandt School of Public Policy

Washington and Lee School of Law

In midst of my semester break, when I was down and out, primarily because of the cold German weather and having nothing to do, I received an email on the 26th of February from Professor Hoffman informing me about a Comparative Law Academy jointly organized by the Brandt School and Washington and Lee University School of Law (Virginia, USA).  Not only did the email help in cheering me up, but also provided me with a possible opportunity to change my monotonous routine and engage in a creative learning exercise. I took no time in pouncing on this opportunity and applied for it. After a couple of days, luckily, I was selected among six students representing the Brandt School at the Academy.

The American group was headed by Professor Russell Miller, an expert in German Constitutional Law, leading six young enthusiastic future lawyers, who were cherishing the fact of coming to Germany for this combined learning activity. Along with American Washington and Lee Law Students and the six Brandteers, two law students from the University of Erfurt also participated.

The first day at the Academy focused on general introductions of law and comparative law, along with reaching consensus on the general definitions of a constitution and the elements necessary for formulating a constitution. The first session concluded with an interesting debate on cultures and values defining the constitutions, and whether such influences help in making effective constitutions. The American guests, later in the day, were entertained with a concert and city tour of Weimar.

The second day of the workshop, more eventful and interactive in nature, started with a discussion on Freedom of Expression and its limitations. Cutting the session short to half an hour due to change in train schedule because of heavy snowfall, the participants visited Buchenwald Concentration Camp, some 40 minutes from Erfurt, to give them an insight on the nature of Nazi concentration camps. The second day rounded off with a movie screening, The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996), in the common room of the Brandt School. The sole objective of the Buchenwald visit and the movie screening was helping the students understand the concepts learnt during the course of our two-day discussions along with reaching a conclusion on limits and liberties of speech in the USA and comparing them with those in Germany.

The third day of the workshop kick-started with an interesting question raised by Professor Miller asking the participants whether there should be an absolute freedom of speech or some limitations on expression. The question was in relation to the text case studies and the movie screened the day before. Interesting to note was the fact that the group did not reach a consensus on how the freedom of speech may be defined or constrained, whereas most of the participants presented certain aspects on which the freedom of speech shall be restricted such as religion, dignity and privacy among many other things. Later in the day, the group set off for Karlsruhe.

The visit to Karlsruhe signified a shift from theory to practice as the group visited the German Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht), where the operations and procedures of German courts were explained. The group was also honored to have with them Justice Baer, one of the 15 judges at the Constitutional Court, who discussed the duties and responsibilities of a judge at this court, along with shedding light on the judicial selection procedure. The day also included a short introduction of the European Court of Human Rights by Professor Hoffman, who explained why and how this European Court functions, and what gives it legitimacy and higher authority over the EU national courts. After finishing the activities planned for Karlsruhe, the group started its journey towards its final destination of Strasbourg, France.

Strasbourg, a historical city on the German-French border, is famous not only for the European Parliament but also for the European Court of Human Rights. The city portrays a beautiful mix of German and French architecture. The fifth day consisted of a visit to the European Court of Human Rights, which sits right next to the amazing building of the European Parliament, in order to learn about the functioning and jurisdiction of the court. The visit consisted of information sessions by researchers at the court along with a retired judge who gave insights on the number of pending cases at the court along with the member states making up for highest number of cases.

The session at court rounded off with a final discussion session arranged by Professor Miller at the court’s conference room where all the participants were asked to shed light on their overall learning experience from the workshop. The Brandt School participants were of the view that this workshop provided them with a huge opportunity of not only visiting great historical places recognized as symbols of law and justice, but also helped them to understand the basics of constitutional law through effective debates and discussions.

The final discussion at the court also marked an end to a great learning journey of six days, which allowed us to meet new amazing people from the United States, along with helping us in realizing the efforts the Brandt School puts in to facilitate such events for its students. These six days, starting from Erfurt and ending in Strasbourg, were another addition to our amazing learning and intercultural experiences at the Brandt School. These amazing moments could not have been made possible with sheer commitment and efforts of the Brandt School, especially Professor Hoffman, along with the students of the School who helped in facilitating the activities.

Everyone made sure that the guests, as well as the hosts, faced minimal hurdles during the event and thus turned the Comparative Law Academy into one of the most memorable events for all the participants.

Furthermore, check out the blog entries that the Washington and Lee law students wrote throughout the trip: