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German High Court Reviews Anti-Terror Law

DW staff (win)November 9, 2005

Germany's highest court on Wednesday begins hearing a complaint about a new law that authorizes the destruction of planes if terrorists have hijacked it and plan to use it as a weapon.

The law is meant to prevent this from happening in GermanyImage: AP

A commercial pilot, frequent fliers and a former parliamentarian had objected to the law, saying that gave the government a licence to kill innocent people.

Großer Lauschangriff Prozess
Burkhard Hirsch (left) during a previous hearing at the courtImage: AP

"For the first time, the state wants to have the power during a time of peace to take the lives of people, who have done absolutely nothing wrong," said Burkhard Hirsch, a prominent member of the free-market liberal Free Democratic Party, who served in parliament until 1998.

Hirsch added that even the danger of more people dying didn't justify shooting down a plane.

Government officials had pushed for the law after the Sept. 11 attacks and the case of a mentally disabled man who had flown a small plane across Frankfurt's banking sector in 2003.

German Presídent Horst Köhler had signed the bill into law in January, but voiced serious concerns and suggested that it should go before the high court for a review.

Application unlikely?

Interior Minister Otto Schily said that the law was necessary to enable Bundeswehr fighter jets to act as police forces did not have the capabilities to deal with such a situation.

Bundesinnenminister Otto Schily
Otto Schily thinks the law will most likely never be appliedImage: dpa

But speaking ahead of the first hearing in front of Germany's constitutional court Wednesday, Schily added that the law could practically never be applied.

The passengers aboard would already have to face certain death because terrorist were about to fly the plane into a building and military jets would still have to be able to shoot down the plane.

"These parameters will never coincide in reality," Schily said.

Protest gegen Klon-Patent
Could the law lead to more radical research with embryos?Image: AP

Legal experts, however, have warned against off-setting the lives of the hostages of terrorists on a plane against potential victims on the ground, saying that this would open the door for state-sanctioned torture or radical research with embryos.

The court is expected to announce its verdict next spring.