Gerda Henkel Stiftung (GHS): Prof. Helmholz, since 1982 the Gerda Henkel Foundation has supported a series of working groups and conferences comparing Common Law and Civil Law. You have participated in some of these groups. Can you summarize the central idea that combines all of these different meetings?
Prof. Helmholz: I would say it has been that progress in comparative legal history required detailed examination of different subjects and possible points of contact between the two systems. Rather than paint with a broad brush, individual groups should be formed to look at detailed questions and points of possible legal contact. This has largely been successful. Different groups have examined many diverse subjects – commercial law, the law of proof, and jurisdictional law, for example. The results have varied; some have found clear points of contact between the systems; some have not. On the whole, however, it has been a most worthwhile venture. Surprising and worthwhile results have emerged from the findings of these groups.
GHS: What is the main difference between Common Law and Civil Law? Why did specific societies develop a tradition of codified law, and others a legislation based on precedent cases?
Prof. Helmholz: The series has shown, I believe, that the principal difference has been in the procedural systems applied. In England and other common law countries: the jury; on the Continent: the learned law of proof evaluating the testimony of witnesses and documents. That has made a large difference in outcomes, one not limited to procedure. However, it has not meant that points of contact and influence in the substantive law did not occur. The series has shown that movement back and forth did in fact occur – more often than many of us expected. The study of commercial law and kindred subjects (e.g. banking and commerce) have proved particularly fruitful in this regard.
GHS: Can you say something about the very beginning of the cooperation between the main editors and the Gerda Henkel Foundation. How did the cooperation develop in the first years?
Prof. Helmholz: This has been something of a disappointment. Professor K. W. Nörr has performed splendidly as general editor – in suggesting topics, choosing group members, and supervising the contributions, he has been truly outstanding. However, at least to my knowledge, the system has not led to interaction between the individual editors and the Gerda Henkel Stiftung. As an editor of more than one of the volumes, I have always regretted this. It might have been possible, for example, to bring together several of the editors for a general discussion of where the series might go. That is all the more desirable now that Professor Nörr can no longer be as active as he once was. It may be, of course, that the Series has now accomplished the purposes Professor Coing envisioned, at least as far as is feasible. I myself hope that the Series can be continued, though it would now certainly require new leaders. I have been in consultation with Professor Reinhard Zimmermann about this and would be glad to consider it further.