Law and Compliance in Switzerland

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Business Contract

General Observation
The role and responsibility of the vendor (including methods of quality control and packaging details) should be clearly mentioned.Due diligence of the company with whom you are signing the business contract is generally suggested. Although any company listed in the Swiss Trade Register is considered to be a legitimate company and is required to keep accounts and to maintain a balance sheet. However, the register does not reveal information about a company’s financial status and business practices.
Law Applicable to the Contract
Swiss Code of Obligations (“CO”)
Advisable Incoterms
Choose CIF or FOB.
Language of Domestic Contract
German, French, Italian or Romansch. English is generally used in all international contracts.
Other Laws Which Can Be Used in Domestic Contracts
Generally the laws and courts of America and other European countries including England are likely to be accepted by any Swiss supplier.


The parties are free to choose the governing law of a contract. If not expressly agreed on by the parties, the applicable law is that of the country in which the party performing the characteristic obligation under the agreement in question resides.


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Legal Framework of Business

Equity of Judgments

Independence of Justice
The judiciary is independent in Switzerland.
Equal Treatment of Nationals and Foreigners
Foreign nationals can expect a free trial from the country’s judicial system.
The Language of Justice
The judicial languages used in the country are: German, French and Italian.
Recourse to an Interpreter
Legal Similarities
The main source of the law is the constitution of 1848, amended completely in 1874 and 2000.


 The Swiss federal system is characterized by substantial decentralization. The cantons and half-cantons have control over much of economic and social policies having their own laws, with the federal government's powers largely limited to foreign affairs and some economic policy.

The country’s legal system is based on civil law system influenced by customary law and judicial review of various legislative acts.

Switzerland accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, but with reservations.


The Different Legal Codes Swiss Laws
Checking National Laws Online
Swiss Institute of Comparative law
Swiss Law online
Other Useful Resources
Swiss Federal Constitution
Swiss Federal Court
CH - CH, The Swiss Portal.
Country Guides
LexMundi, A guide to doing business in Switherland

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The Jurisdictions

Canton courts Each canton has several courts of primary jurisdiction (in larger cantons so-called district courts) and one court of appeal. They usually cover civil and criminal cases. Administrative matters are heard by a special court. The courts of primary jurisdiction normally consist of five or three members. In the four cantons of Zurich, Bern, Aargau and St. Gallen civil matters are heard in commercial courts if they involve commercial transactions of a certain value of the matter in dispute. In some cantons specialised courts exist for labour disputes and for rent tribunals.


Certain matters such as disputes about industrial property law and other specialized matters are heard before the court of appeal as first instance.

Federal Court (Tribunal fédéral/Bundesgericht) It is the highest court and the final court of appeal in Switzerland. The main location is in Lausanne and the primary function is to provide for a uniform application of federal law throughout the country.


A Federal insurance court (Tribunal fédéral des assurances/Eidgenössisches Versicherungsgericht), located in Lucerne, has appellate jurisdiction for certain disputes involving social security and insurance matters.

In April 2004, the new Federal criminal court (Tribunal pénal fédéral/Bundesstrafgericht), located in Bellinzona,took up its functions as the federal court of first instance and the court of appeal in certain criminal matters.

In 2007/2008 the Federal criminal system will be completed by the addition of a Federal administrative court (Tribunal administratif fédéral/Bundesverwaltungsgericht) with seat in St. Gallen.

The members of the Federal courts are elected in a joint session of the National Council and the Council of States.


Court Officials

The members of the Federal courts are elected in a joint session of the National Council and the Council of States. Other judges are elected. The election of judges is a political issue. Public elections (judges of trial courts) and parliamentary elections (judges of cantonal appellate courts) determine which of the candidates put forward by the political parties will become judges. There are strict rules concerning the impartiality of judges, and, in general, a judge may be rejected if circumstances indicate that he/she could be biased in any way.
Public prosecutors
In Switzerland the role of the Public Prosecutor is performed by a representative of the Criminal Commission. The structure, appointment methods and the jurisdiction of the public prosecutor’s office vary from canton to canton. In certain cantons, the power to appoint public prosecutors lies in the executive while in others it lies in the legislature.
Attorneys at law
Any person wishing to enter the profession of attorney must graduate from a Swiss school of law. In addition he/she should be a member of Swiss Bar Association. But to be admitted to the Bar, he/she must "apprentice" in a canton, for a period of nearly two years under the supervision of a qualified lawyer, followed by passing the bar examination for that canton (there is no "federal" bar examination in Switzerland).
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