In the Liechtenstein legal system in civil and criminal
matters, judicial powers are vested in and exercised by the
courts in Vaduz. Questions of fact and law are generally
decided by a judge. Voluntary arbitral
proceedings as a method of alternative dispute resolution are
becoming more and more popular, specifically in family law
cases but also in business law disputes.
Actions will only be successful if the claim has not become
statute barred. The time limits vary from one year up to 40
years, though the most frequent time limits are three and five
The following courts exercise jurisdiction in civil
- First Instance, District Court
- Second Instance, Superior Court
- Final Instance, Supreme Court (Oberster
A single judge conducts proceedings before the district
court. Superior Court and Supreme Court sit as a panel of five
Additionally, Liechtenstein law offers access to the
Constitutional Court (Staatsgerichtshof) for cases
when court orders or judgments are in breach of a party's
constitutionally guaranteed rights. The Constitutional Court
also sits as a five-judge panel.
Liechtenstein is a member state of the European Economic
Area (EEA) and a signatory to the Convention for the Protection
of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950. Therefore,
having passed all instances in Liechtenstein, a litigant can
also seek justice before the European Free Trade Area (EFTA)
Court or the European Court of Human Rights. This article
relates to procedures applying in one of the three instances of
the Liechtenstein Court.
Apart from certain criminal proceedings, there is no
obligation for a party to be represented by a lawyer. A party
can be represented by any other individual, which does not
necessarily have to be a legal professional, but needs to prove
such power of attorney by a written document.
In certain circumstances, foreign lawyers may also be
entitled to represent a party to a dispute before a
Liechtenstein court. For EC lawyers the requirements are less
formal. However, foreign lawyers representing a party can claim
legal fees only if they have been officially granted the right
of legal representation.
Lawyers' fees are subject to the statutory Attorney's Tariff
or the Autonomous Fee Guidelines of the Liechtenstein Bar.
Generally, lawyers are free to reach an agreement on fees
individually with each client. Cases that are tried before
court are customarily billed by the tariff's flat-rate system.
Lawyers cannot assert contingency fees. Nevertheless, a
surcharge to the fees if the litigation is successful can be
agreed. Equally, a lawyer cannot purchase the client's claim if
it is the object of current proceedings. The lawyer and its
client can also agree on time-based or task-based fees.
The so-called quota litis prohibition (that is, the
prohibition of a party to litigation proceedings agreeing with
a third party that the third party will receive a share in any
amount recovered if it funds those proceedings) is a provision
of the Liechtenstein Law on Lawyers, so only applies to members
of that profession. Litigation parties are therefore free to
finance their litigation by whatever means are available to
them, including third-party funding.
First and second instance proceedings are usually held in
public. The proceedings of the Supreme Court are regularly
decided in non-public sessions.
However, in District Court and Superior Court proceedings
the public may be excluded (completely or partly) if the judge
regards it as necessary to protect morality or public order.
Also, on the application of a party, the public can be excluded
if family life matters have to be discussed. In the case of
unreasoned non-publicity a hearing is void.
Court documents are not generally accessible to the public.
Participants of the proceeding and non-participants proving
sufficient legal interest however can review (and copy) the
court files on application. Final decisions (specifically
judgments) are generally available to the public after having
been made anonymous.
Liechtenstein law provides with exceptions for
inexpensive but compulsory pre-trial mediation. However, as the
mediators usually are layman, mediation may be of no use where
complex commercial cases are heard. In practice, the
claimant-to-be requests the mediator to schedule a hearing, at
which it asks to issue a certificate that no settlement was
reached (Leitschein). In many cases, the
defendant-to-be does not even attend the mediation hearing, not
triggering any default consequences. The Leitschein
has to be attached to the statement of claim, failing which the
court will dismiss the lawsuit immediately.
Court proceedings are started by serving the statement of
claim on the court a brief that needs to contain a short
- facts of the case
- means of evidence
- grounds on which the court has jurisdiction, and
- specified prayer for relief.
The claimant cannot leave it to the court as to what kind of
judicial relief it may adjudge; the statement of claim needs to
state precisely what the claimant requests.
Once the statement of claim is served on the court, it is
forwarded to the defendant. The judge schedules a so-called
first hearing (Erste Tagsatzung) that in some cases
serves the argument concerning admissibility of evidence.
Further the first hearing gives an opportunity for:
- Basic movements of the defendant to be decided on.
- A judgment to be rendered (by default or because of
- Dismissal of a claim (because of inadmissibility
If a first hearing is held, the defendant is entitled to
answer the statement of claim in writing within usually four
Evidence is heard only with regard to disputed facts that
have a bearing on a possible cause of action on which the
claimant's request for relief may be founded. The court does
not collect facts on its own volition, but confines itself to
appraising the facts pleaded by the parties.
Usually the court issues an order detailing all the points
in dispute for which it intends to hear evidence (an order for
evidence (Beweisbeschluss)), which cannot be
contested, but can be amended or changed by the court at any
time during the proceedings. The parties can submit evidence in
the form of:
- hearing witnesses
- evidence of experts
- inspection of the court, and
- party interrogation.
None of these means of evidence has greater weight than the
After the evidence-taking procedure is completed, lawyers
render an account of their fees, and after that the proceedings
are formally closed. Henceforth (until the appellate
proceedings start), the parties cannot put forward any more
allegations of law or fact. Further, the action cannot be
withdrawn or amended and (court) settlements cannot be agreed
In civil proceedings a decision is then made in the form of
a judgment, which is mostly rendered in writing. The judgment
enters into effect when it is served on the parties. From this
moment on the period for appeal starts.
An action will be dismissed at any time (also in appellate
- The court has no jurisdiction in the case (because the
criminal court or administrative authorities have exclusive
jurisdiction or because, for example, the claimant has:
(wrongly) chosen ordinary proceedings instead of
extra-judicial ones; failed to request pretrial payment in a
public liability case (Amtshaftung); or failed to
request compulsory mediation and to attach the
Leitschein to the statement of complaint.)
- The court does not have domestic or international
- The parties are not capable of being a party in a
lawsuit. Natural persons (including unborn persons) always
can be party to a lawsuit. However, with regard to (foreign)
corporate bodies, it depends on statutory (foreign) law.
- The parties are not legally capable of conducting
proceedings (equivalent to the legal incapacity to close a
- The claimant has no legal interest in the lawsuit.
- The claimant's claim is not actionable.
- A second identical action has been brought in another
court (ne bis in idem) or such action has been
adjudicated (res judicata).
The adverse party may be enjoined to provide a certain
amount of money covering the costs to be expected
(aktorische Kaution). This especially applies for
domiciliary companies (companies domiciled in Liechtenstein but
not doing business in the country). Appellants can also be
affected by securities for costs.
The calculation of the costs to be secured is based on the
pleadings of the parties and the evidence presented. The
decision of the court can be contested.
The temporary injunction is an order obtained from a court,
exclusively on application of a party, for the short-term
purpose of preventing irreparable injury to the petitioner. It
can be issued to prevent a threatening change of existing
conditions that may render impossible or substantially more
difficult the realisation of one of the parties' right, to
prevent substantial damage or for other reasons.
Before the start of a lawsuit and during litigation,
interlocutory injunctions can be issued and obtained without
prior notice to the defendant. The applicant must provide
prima facie evidence for the claim and the risk that
might hinder the future execution. The injunctions are usually
granted within two days.
Further, in very urgent cases, an applicant can
preliminarily request the competent authorities to render a
provisional order, such as the:
- security of tangible movable property
- collection of money, or
- maintenance of a provisional situation.
In practice, these may even be orally expressed to the
debtor or to banks or trustees that dispose of assets of which
the debtor is deemed the beneficial owner. However, the
applicant must file a written application with the court within
two days. Otherwise, the preliminary court order loses any
Interim attachment orders
For the short-term purpose of preventing irreparable injury
to the petitioner, as well as interim injunctions, the court
can grant interim attachment orders. They are available on the
same grounds as interim injunctions and without prior notice of
the defendant. The term for obtaining an interim attachment
order is the same as for interim injunctions, and the same
provisional orders are available for urgent cases.
As Liechtenstein has, apart from conventions with Austria
and Switzerland, not signed any international conventions on
the enforcement of foreign court decisions, the recognition and
enforcement of foreign decisions in civil matters in
Liechtenstein is governed by the Law on Execution
(Exekutionsordnung) (EO). This law is the legal basis
also for the granting of interim attachment orders.
Under the Law on Execution, it is possible to enforce
foreign judgments and arbitral awards subject to several
conditions. For example, it must have been possible in the
respective case to institute the legal proceedings in the
foreign state as well under its domestic provisions on
jurisdiction or the action must be enforceable under the
domestic law of Liechtenstein.
Before an interim attachment order can be granted, it will
be decided by the court if execution on the basis of the
foreign title of execution will be granted or not. Therefore,
obtaining a grant of execution based on a foreign title of
execution is far more complicated and potentially more
drawn-out than obtaining a grant of execution based on a
domestic title of execution.
If the court decides that the prima facie evidence
is not sufficient to grant an attachment order and if the
threatened disadvantages for the opposing party arising from
such an order can be compensated with cash indemnity, the court
may order the applicant to deposit a certain amount of money in
court as security for possible damages for the defendant.
Generally, the claimant can file an action to enforce a
right or claim, a prohibitory action, or a declaratory action.
However, the claimant cannot always be in the position to
request a judgment of payments or other claims or to state the
exact amount. In such situations, an action by stages can be
filed, consisting of two different prayers for relief: a sworn
notification of the assets or the request for rendering an
account and, subsequently, the prayer for positive relief,
Generally, parties have no obligation to produce documents
or any other evidence that may be adverse to their interests.
In particular, there is no such thing as a so-called fishing
expedition, whereby a party can look at the evidence the other
party must produce in the course of pre-trial discovery
proceedings and find in it the evidence required to make his or
her case conclusive.
However, under legally defined circumstances the opposing
party cannot refuse to submit a document. If a party refuses to
comply with this obligation, this can only be weighed and
considered accordingly by the court within its free evaluation
of evidence when rendering the final judgment.
If a third party denies possession of a document, the party
seeking to present evidence in support of its arguments needs
to certify that possession. If that party is not successful or
the right to obtain the document is controversial, the party
can file an action (Editionsklage) to obtain the
Rules of privilege do not apply in Liechtenstein because
parties can only be required to produce certain documents.
Although lawyers can refuse to answer questions relating to
information received from a client when testifying as
witnesses, there is no comparable provision in Liechtenstein
procedural law stating a specific attorney-client-privilege for
documents. However, such documents may be subject to the
general professional secrecy privilege.
Witnesses and experts
In general, every person summoned before a Liechtenstein
court is on pain of penalties obliged to appear before the
court to testify orally. The parties to a case are excluded
from testifying as witnesses as they can give privileged party
statements to the court. If necessary, the court may take
witnesses under oath. Cross-examination of the witness is
inadmissible. Leading questions and any other undertaking to
influence the witness will be rejected. The parties have the
right to pose questions to the witnesses.
The court nominates experts if the judges themselves do not
have sufficient expertise to decide factual matters in
question. The court decides which questions the appointed
expert should answer. The parties can submit supplementary
questions to the court, which may be included in the
questionnaire. Experts usually file a written expertise, and
afterwards may be invited to answer questions from the court
and the parties at a hearing. They are subject to the same duty
to tell the truth and the same sanctions for violations of that
duty as witnesses.
Regularly, the expert presents his statement of costs and
the judge will decide if the amount is appropriate. This
decision can be appealed. If one of the parties doubts
qualification or impartiality of the expert nominated by the
court, that party has the right to refuse the nomination and,
in case of affirmation, the right to file an appeal (recourse)
against the court order.
The superior court decides all appeals, recourses, and
nullity appeals against decisions of the District Court. The
Supreme Court decides all such appeals against a superior court
An appeal has suspensive effect, which means that the
appealed decision has no res judicata effect and
cannot be enforced. A recourse against a court order, however,
does not have suspensive effect.
Appeals are to be based on:
- material mistakes
- incorrect fact-finding, or
- errors in judgment.
Decisions by the superior court may not be contested by
appeal to the Supreme Court because of incorrect fact finding.
In certain circumstances exhaustively described by the law,
court orders can be contested by recourse.
While the average duration from the start of a lawsuit to
judgment is 12 months, it may take longer if the case is
complex and international, if foreign law has to be applied, or
if witnesses domiciled abroad are to be heard. However, even if
all channels and sequences of courts are gone through, a final
and binding decision usually can be obtained within two to
Court costs and legal fees are imposed (eventually
proportional) on the unsuccessful party.
Once a binding judgment is available, the claim can, in a
case of default on behalf of the debtor, be enforced under the
provisions of the Law on Execution. This provides for various
measures, such as seizure of movables or real estate property,
or asset freezing. Equally, compulsory administration of assets
can be granted.
In civil matters the choice of foreign law can only be
agreed on if the clause is officially certified. For certain
insurance matters, it is not possible to choose another law
than the law of Liechtenstein.
Liechtenstein has enacted the Legal Assistance Act, which
enables foreign authorities to request a Liechtenstein judge to
perform judicial actions required for procedures abroad. In
general, such actions are performed if they correspond with the
legal system in Liechtenstein, are not in breach of public
policy and the requesting state would grant identical actions
reciprocally. Therefore, normally the documents to be served
will be sent by the foreign court to the Liechtenstein court.
The Liechtenstein court then takes care of proper service to
the respective party. Special rules for service that have to be
applied under foreign law are only fulfilled if this procedure
is especially requested by the foreign court and does not
contravene Liechtenstein law.
As Liechtenstein did not join the Lugano Convention on
Jurisdiction and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and
Commercial Matters 1988, the enforcement of foreign judgments
is subject exclusively to Liechtenstein Law and mainly the Law
on Execution. The enforcement of foreign judgments or titles
will be refused if the status of reciprocity (declaration of
reciprocity) between Liechtenstein and the foreign nation that
issued the judgment is not provided. Equally, enforcement of
the claim must be possible as well as admissible under
Liechtenstein law. Currently, international agreements granting
enforceability to civil judgments only exist with Switzerland
About the author
Dr Johannes Gasser LLM is a partner of the law
offices of Dr Dr Batliner & Dr Gasser, the largest
law firm in Liechtenstein. The law office, which
celebrated its 55th anniversary in 2009, comprises of
His firm's expertise extends to litigation in all
areas, including dispute resolution involving trusts
and foundations and representing defendants suspected
of business crimes, fraud victims and defrauded
corporations. The firm advises banks, offshore services
companies and financial investors in protecting
themselves from money-laundering and other violations
of the law. The firm has been very successful in the
defence of unfounded legal assistance requests in
criminal matters involving banking assets in
Dr Gasser is admitted both in Liechtenstein and
Austria. He specialises in freezing assets in
Liechtenstein banks, including proceeds of crime, and
'piercing the veil' of Liechtenstein corporations.
Dr Gasser is the author of Criminal
Responsibility of Managers for Employees Laundering
Money, Ascertaining Beneficiary Rights in a
Liechtenstein Family Foundation, Liechtenstein
International Insolvency Law, Choice of Law Clauses in
International Contracts, New Developments on
Liechtenstein Trusts, and Asset Protection
trough Liechtenstein Annuities and Life Insurance.
He contributed chapters to the firm's book Litigation
and Arbitration in Liechtenstein.
Dr Gasser is a member of the Judiciary Election
Commission of Liechtenstein appointed by the prince and
head of state.
Dr Johannes Gasser
Dr Batliner & Dr Gasser
Marktgass 21 Postfach 479 9490 VADUZ Fürstentum
Tel: +423 236 04 80
Fax: +423-236 04 81