The Federal Administrative Court based in St. Gallen is the general administrative court of Switzerland. As a federal institution, it issues judgments in the three official languages of German, French and Italian. It examines the legality of decisions rendered by federal administrative authorities and appeals against certain decisions made by cantonal governments, for example in matters pertaining to health insurance. Its more than 400 employees, about three quarters of whom are legally trained, come from all language regions of Switzerland.
The Federal Administrative Court (FAC) is composed of six divisions and a General Secretariat. Its strategic executive body is the Administrative Commission, headed by the FAC President. The other bodies are the Plenary Court and the Presidential Council made up of the division presidents. The judiciary bodies are the divisions and the chambers.
The divisions handle cases with different focuses. Division I: infrastructure, the environment, duties and fees, the Occupational Pensions Act and employment; Division II: the economy, education and competition; Division III: social insurances and public health; Division IV and Division V: cases relating to asylum legislation; Division VI: matters in law concerning foreigners and citizenship.
The around 70 employees of the General Secretariat provide the infrastructure needed for day-to-day operations at the Federal Administrative Court and support the divisions with scientific and administrative services. The General Secretariat is divided into the following sections: Finance and Services, Human Resources, Information Technology, Scientific Services, Legal Services and Communication.
There are 65 full-time positions for judges at the Federal Administrative Court (FAC), although part-time employment is possible. Each judge leads a team of two to four court clerks. With over 400 employees, the FAC is the largest court of the Swiss Confederation. The federal administrative judges are appointed by the United Federal Assembly. It ensures – besides looking at professional and social skills – a balanced representation of languages, party affiliation and regions.
The judges work in one of the six divisions dealing with the specific legal topics. They are responsible for ensuring that appeal and litigation proceedings are properly conducted and for reaching the judgments. The instructing judge leads the proceedings. He or she is responsible for gathering evidence and conducting a hearing – usually in writing – to weigh the arguments put forward by both parties. Where the court is composed of three or five judges, the other judges sit as members of the panel.
The formation of the panel, i.e. the composition of the judges who rule on a case, is generally done with the help of software. Panel formation relies on two components, one automated and the other manual. As a rule, panels consist of three judges, however, proceedings may also heard by a single judge, if necessary with the consent of a second judge (in the asylum area) or in a five-judge panel.
In addition to the instructing judge, the other members of the panel – usually two other judges, plus a court clerk in an advisory capacity – are involved in the adjudication process. The arguments presented by the parties as well as the facts and evidence are all considered by the panel in light of the provisions and weighed in relation to the dispute submitted to the Federal Administrative Court for decision. The written judgment is drafted by a court clerk and the instructing judge bears the responsibility for it.
The court clerks form the largest professional group at the Federal Administrative Court. Their main task is to draft the written judgment under the responsibility of the instructing judge. In addition, they assist with the investigation of cases, i.e. managing the proceedings. They act in an advisory capacity in the decision-making process and prepare transcripts of hearings.
The draft judgment of the instructing judge and the court clerk circulates among the other members of the panel – the second and third judges. If all of them agree, the case is decided in line with the draft. Otherwise, there is a second circulation or, if requested or ordered, a public deliberation on the judgment. At this deliberation, which is held with five judges, the different opinions are presented and the judgment is then issued in accordance with the majority of the panel.
The Federal Administrative Court issues some 7,500 judgments annually in the official languages, i.e. German, French or Italian, and these are not translated into other languages. The court publishes the material, i.e. substantive judgments, in its court judgments database on its website. Formal decisions, which are decisions regarding the proceedings, are only published if they are relevant to the public. A procedural decision can be made, for example, if the appellant has no right to appeal (locus standi), if an advance on costs required has not been paid or if the deadline for appeal has been missed.
As a basic principle, the decisions of the Federal Administrative Court (FAC) can be appealed to the Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne. In certain areas of law, such as asylum law, the judgments are final. Asylum judgments make up the majority of the 7,500 or so decisions that the FAC renders each year.
Appeal petitions must be submitted to the Federal Administrative Court in writing, either by post or electronically. Appeals submitted in writing must be signed and the contested rulings must be enclosed. Electronic submissions may only be made via recognised delivery platforms. As a basic principle, an appeal may be filed if there has been a violation of federal law including the exceeding or abuse of discretionary powers, if there has been an incorrect or incomplete determination of the legally relevant facts of the case, or if the ruling is inadequate.
There is no requirement for clients to be represented in cases submitted before the Federal Administrative Court. Generally speaking, a party may handle the proceedings independently or have a legal expert (licensed or otherwise) or layperson represent him or her.
As a general rule, fees are charged for proceedings before the Federal Administrative Court. Procedural costs are usually paid by the unsuccessful party. In order to ensure that procedural costs are covered, advance payment may be required. Under certain conditions, parties may also be entitled to appoint a legal representative free of charge. The decision on whether to grant free legal aid is usually made at the start of the proceedings in the form of an interim ruling.
Proceedings before the Federal Administrative Court are conducted in writing; their duration varies depending on the case and the legal field. The processing period ranges from a few days – such as in the case of decisions to dismiss an application without entering into the substance of the case – to several years – for example in competition law.
The material judgments of the Federal Administrative Court are published in the court judgments database on the website. Formal decisions are published if they are relevant to the public.
The DFAC is the official compilation of decisions of the Federal Administrative Court. The decisions are published on the Internet after approval by the Drafting Committee. The DFAC are divided into the following subjects: I. Citizens and state, administrative and procedural law in general; II. Public works, transport, energy, communications; III. Tax law; IV. Business and financial law, education and science; V. Health, social security; VI. Asylum law; VII. Law on foreign nationals and citizenship. The DFAC can be subscribed to via newsletter and are also available in the DFAC Bulletin annual edition.
A good overview is provided by the court film and publications such as the court brochure and annual report on the website. The publications are also available in printed form on request in German, French, Italian and partly in English. Media representatives can contact the Media Service of the Court, which is run by the Communication section. General enquiries can be made via the form on the website’s homepage. The Federal Administrative Court cannot provide legal advice.
Groups of ten people or more can visit the Federal Administrative Court on a tour. Tours are available in German, French, Italian and English and from Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. A tour lasts approximately one and a half hours.