Ruling of the federal administrative court: expulsion of the federal police

On station forecourts, the federal police are only allowed to check IDs in narrowly defined areas. A man from Trier has now successfully appealed through the courts.

Federal police officers are only allowed to check IDs in train stations. Not in front of them. Picture: dpa

The jurisdiction of the federal police within railroad facilities does not generally apply to station forecourts. This has now been decided by the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. The federal police can carry out identity checks on a station staircase, but not next to it.

Specifically, it was about a case from Trier. There, 61-year-old early retiree Burkhard H. was standing with a group of youths in front of the station entrance, right next to the station stairs. The scene seemed strange to a patrol of the federal police and they demanded ID cards from all of them. A call back to police headquarters revealed that one of the youths was registered as a drug user. The police searched his backpack, without result.

Nevertheless, the identity check had an aftermath – for the police. Burkhard H., who himself used to work for the railroad, considered the check inadmissible because the federal police had no say in front of the station, the forecourt was no longer a "railroad facility". The administrative court in Trier ruled in his favor, saying that the ID check was illegal.

But the Higher Administrative Court saw it differently, because the operation took place in "immediate proximity" to the station steps. But the disputatious pensioner appealed. His lawyer Udo Kaub warned in Leipzig: "Soon, the federal police will be responsible for the entire Bahnhofsstrabe, because it leads to the station."

"Spatially precise fixable clues"

The Federal Administrative Court now interpreted the law narrowly. Terms such as "immediate proximity to rail facilities" were too imprecise. Citizens and police officers need to know clearly where the federal police have jurisdiction. In future, the federal police will only be able to carry out checks in the run-up to a station in those areas where "spatially precisely fixable clues prove their predominant assignment to rail traffic," according to Judge Neumann.

According to Neumann, these include stairways, canopies, pedestrian tunnels and overpasses that lead directly to the station. The federal police have no jurisdiction over sidewalks and roads that only pass in front of the station. In the Trier case, according to Judge Neumann, the ID check was unlawful because Burkhard H. and his friends were standing "next to the stairs."

Outside the station, however, this does not create a police-free zone; rather, the state police are responsible. However, the control density by the federal police is usually higher. Since 1992, the Federal Police (ex-Bundesgrenzschutz) have also performed the duties of the former Railway Police.

Indirectly, the ruling also limits the space in which the Federal Police can carry out warrantless checks against suspected illegal immigrants. These are permitted in airports, on trains and on "railroad facilities" – i.e. not next to the station steps.

For normal checks on railroad facilities, however, concrete indications of imminent criminal acts are required according to the Federal Police Act (ยง 23 I No. 4). Lawyer Kaub had argued that the control would have been illegal anyway, because the mere standing around in railroad facilities does not justify an identity check. However, this was no longer relevant, because the federal police were not responsible.

(BVerwG 6 C 4.13)

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