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Living in Switzerland For Members

Does a foreign resident have the right to take Swiss citizen to court?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Does a foreign resident have the right to take Swiss citizen to court?
Anyone can expect justice, regardless of nationality. Photo: Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels

A conflict could arise between you and a Swiss national that only a court can settle. But can a foreigner take legal action against a native?

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Whether you are a foreign national or not, the best way to address disputes is by negotiations rather than confrontation — after all, Switzerland is known for its mediation of international quarrels, so the least its residents can do is adapt the same approach to conflict resolution.

But what happens if, despite your best efforts and intentions, amicable discussions are fruitless and you want to pursue the case through the justice system?

Can you do so if you are a foreigner and your adversary is Swiss?

Equal rights

A lot depends on your status in Switzerland.

If you live in the country illegally — that is, without a valid work permit, or visa, as the case may be, then you certainly don’t want to make your presence known to the authorities and should, in fact, leave as soon as possible.

However, everyone residing in the country legally, regardless of nationality, has the same basic constitutional rights as Swiss citizens do — for instance, the right to human dignity, free expression, equality, protection against discrimination, freedom of religion, and yes, even the right to use the court system to seek justice and expect it to hand down the verdict based on merits of the case, not your nationality.

It also includes fair and unbiased judgment even if your adversary is Swiss.

READ ALSO: Do foreigners in Switzerland have the same legal rights as the Swiss?

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How should you file a legal case against someone?

You should start with the your local district court, which is Switzerland lowest judicial authority.

If you are dissatisfied with the court’s ruling, you can take your case higher up, that is, to the cantonal tribunal. Each canton has its own high court — Switzerland's second most important judicial entity hierarchically.

If the verdict is still not to your liking (provided you are being reasonable and your complaint is legitimate), you can then go to country’s highest authority, the Federal Court, whose judgments are final and cannot be appealed.

READ ALSO: What you should know about Switzerland's courts 

Do you need an attorney to represent you?

This is not an obligation but, depending on the complexity of your case, it might be a good idea.

Of course, lawyers are very expensive, charging, on average, upwards of 150 francs an hour, though the more experienced and reputed they are, the higher their bill will be.

However, the Swiss found a creative way to avoid these sky-high fees: the legal protection insurance.

What exactly is it?

Rechtsschutzversicherungen in German, protection juridique in French, and protezione giuridica in Italian is not obligatory, like the health insurance, but it is very useful if you need legal help — even if it doesn’t include going to court.

If it does, the insurance will appoint for you an attorney specialising in the area of law that your case pertains to.

Typically, this insurance  is reasonably priced (certainly much less than a lawyer would charge you) and covers costs of legal representation associated with contract disputes, employment, loans and debts, healthcare, housing, retail purchases, and travel. 

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Can a foreigner actually win a case against the Swiss?

If it has merit, then yes.

The judges are impartial and can’t favour one litigant over another.

And there are quite a few examples of cases filed by foreigners that they had ultimately won.

Among them are a number of appeals by naturalisation candidates whose applications had been denied by municipal commissions for arbitrary reasons.

One such memorable case involved a Dutch women who was rejected for Swiss citizenship because she complained about the noise of cow bells in her village.

She appealed the communal decision to the cantonal court and won. 
 
 

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