3 1/2 questions to Professor Karsten Thorn

Chair of Civil Law V - Civil Law, Private International and International Commercial Law, and Comparative Law

1. Should we learn from other jurisdictions and, if so, how?

What we can learn from other jurisdictions is to understand that there is never only one given solution to a legal problem, but that there are always alternatives which exist not only in theory but also in legal practice. Analyzing a foreign jurisdiction might stimulate you to overthink the path taken by your own jurisdiction. Do both pieces of legislation serve similar purposes? If so, which solution best suits the purposes pursued? If not, why do the purposes vary, although the legal question is the same? Even if – in the end – you decide not to change your own law, you still have learnt a lot about it during the process.

2. If you would be in charge of designing an international legal research agenda what three topics would be on your list?

I am convinced that international research in law requires appropriate language skills. As law is inseparably interlaced with the legal language of its jurisdiction, you will understand a legal system properly only if you have access to the original sources. Briefly, an English article on German law might give you a glimpse but never a proper understanding, as the English language has not developed the vocabulary needed to express the German characteristics, since these characteristics do not exist in English law. It reminds me of Plato’s cave allegory.

Based on these language skills, of course, it is indispensable to establish a permanent dialogue with colleagues from other jurisdictions: even when you have access to the original sources, you still have your background of a national legal education which you probably will never overcome. Hence, there are differences in legal culture which will cause different approaches or methods, differing focuses and arguments. That’s one of the advantages of an international research group.

3. Which measures are most effective to internationalize legal research?

Based on my actual research interests:

  • Basic procedural rights (right to be heard, right to a lawful judge, and so on), as I have discovered major divergences even among Western European legal systems when it comes to specifications.
  • Protection of data privacy, also from a law and society perspective, as there seem to be tremendous differences with regard to the perception of data privacy by the populations in different countries.
  • Blockchain as a technique to replace traditional registers and create new ones, with a focus on permissibility and possible fields of application.

3 1/2. What legal article is a good read?

Ralf Michaels/Nils Jansen, Private Law Beyond the State? Europeanization, Globalization, Privatization, 54 AMERICAN JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE LAW 845-892 (2006).

See Professor Thorn's profile