Michael Wagner is first public prosecutor at the public prosecutor’s office in Hanover and alumnus of the 2nd EULISP year with a stay abroad at the University of Vienna, Austria.
20.07.2022 – Interview
Michael, I saw that you were already a second-year EULISP student. Do you remember what your original motivation was to apply for the EULISP?
Yes, there were actually two motivational components, if I can put it that way. One was for me to think about what else I could do. I had finished my studies, my first state exam, and it was clear that I would receive a half-orphan’s pension, which I would get for another year because of my civilian service, if I studied something during that time. That was the basis of it all, and then I looked and discovered a newspaper cutting, or more precisely, my girlfriend at the time discovered it and showed it to me. It was about the EULISP, which was still very new at the time. The first round in Hanover had just finished. They had started in autumn 1999 and then there was a report about it and I thought it sounded exciting. I was interested in computer science. That is, legal informatics. At that time, I couldn’t really imagine what it would be like. But it sounded quite exciting. Then I thought ok, one semester in Hanover, that time the Expo was taking place, one semester in London, that’s what I considered initially. And then I thought, I’ll just do that now.
When you think back to your first EULISP semester. What topics do you remember, what did you remember positively or what did you particularly enjoy?
Well, what I remember very, very in particular is the topic of IT contract law with Benno Heussen. That was really a very good event, it was fun and I was able to use a lot of it later. What I also found very exciting was the area of copyright law, which I didn’t know much about before. It was very good to get a basis in copyright and trademark law, even independently of the IT law part.
There was also a bit of criminal law, and of course the general area of legal informatics, at that time with Prof. Kilian. So, it really was a very intensive semester. We learned a lot, celebrated a lot – it was a very good, intensive time in that first semester.
Another special feature of the programme is that the number of participants is usually limited to 25, and meanwhile it is also the case that two thirds of the students come from either European or non-European countries. What was it like when you were doing the EULISP and do you still have friends or acquaintances from that time?
Actually, we had exactly one European student with us. She was Spanish. I had been in regular contact with her later on. She had started her programme in Spain and studied with us during the semester I was in Hanover. And later I lived with her aunt in Spain for a month and learned Spanish there. That’s why we kept in touch for a while, until at some point over time it unfortunately broke off. Actually, with most of them. I still have a fellow student who was in Vienna with me and with whom I’m in contact from time to time. But with most of the others it has broken off at some point over the course of time. That’s just the way it is. There is work and family. So, there are many topics that are discussed, time passes and people are scattered. But I think it’s a bit of a pity and that’s why I think it’s great that the alumni are here and I would be very happy to see them all again. I actually had the idea of trying to organise such a meeting again for the 20th anniversary of our degree programme, but that didn’t work out with Covid. But I think it would be nice to have contact again with the people from back then, it was a very, very united group. There were about twenty of us and it was a very intense summer.
You just mentioned Vienna. What did you particularly like about your stay in Vienna? And what did you remember most about your studies at the partner university?
Well, I particularly liked the theatres and the opera in Vienna and the possibility of getting a standing-room ticket for twenty schillings – that was the equivalent of about three Deutsche Mark – with which you could then sit in any free seat. And unlike in Berlin or other cities, the theatres or operas were usually not overcrowded. As far as the study part is concerned, I have to say quite honestly that Vienna was not so strong at that time. I came from Hanover with great expectations and from there I was used to a very high quality of events, which I usually enjoyed going to and learned a lot. And in Vienna, IT law was not really a focus at that time. But I am very sure that this has changed now, at the latest under Nikolaus Forgó, since he has been in Vienna.
That is to be assumed. Would you recommend studying at the partner university in Vienna for future Eulispians, also from a social point of view, and do you perhaps have an insider tip for life in Vienna?
Yes, I can definitely recommend Vienna. It was a great semester and Vienna is a wonderful city where you can live wonderfully and also study wonderfully and, as I said, you get to know IT law to a certain extend and the basis was already established in Hanover anyway. You learn what you need to learn and you also have your Master’s thesis. The time abroad is more subject to free choice. But it’s also another opportunity to have a mixture of studying and living for a semester. I can still recommend that. And Vienna is just great, especially in terms of culture and social life. Especially when it’s winter semester and the ball season begins. Endless balls at the Hofburg – if you like to dance or just go and look at the people. It’s a great way to spend a semester in Vienna (laughs amusedly).
What was your very first career step after the EULISP? What did you do after that?
First, I did my legal clerkship. Immediately after my clerkship, I saw a job offer and I applied for it and was invited the next day. In a medium-sized law firm in Nuremberg and, yes, I would actually say that the EULISP was my ticket there. They were looking for someone in the area of contract law, including IT contract law. And in general, someone who wasn’t afraid of IT.
But in the end, you ended up in the judiciary. How did it come about that you moved from your work as a lawyer to the judiciary?
There were several reasons. Firstly, it was not entirely clear at the time how the law firm would develop. And the second point was a family aspect, because my wife was finishing her studies in Hanover at the time and I took my parental leave. At the same time, I was also in charge of the EULISP on a half-time basis. I had already been interested in the judiciary, but after my second state examination there was a recruitment freeze. That was no longer the case after my time at the IRI. So, I applied again and ended up here in the judiciary.
How did you end up working at IRI again and supervising the EULISP? Did you want to do something in science again or did you rather “slide into it”?
Yes, it was actually a mixture. At first, I actually rather slipped into it. At that time, parental leave was still without parental allowance. That means you had to live on something, and there was a half-time position as a research assistant available at the time. But I also found the work at the IRI interesting in terms of content. And I did that for one and a half years, from autumn 2007 to spring 2009. That was also the time when the stronger internationalisation of the EULISP began, when we also received the DAAD award. Then more and more foreign applications came in and the programme became more and more international.
In the meantime, you work as a public prosecutor in Hanover. Every year, more cases of cybercrime are recorded in Germany. In your estimation, will more cases from this area be tried in German courts in the coming years for this reason alone and does this form of crime play a greater role in your everyday professional life? Is there, for example, a central office in Hanover to fight cybercrime?
I would say yes, it will increase. And yes, there are central offices. But the central office for cybercrime is not located at the public prosecutor’s office in Hanover. What will certainly increase are, of course, all offences with an IT or Internet connection. For example, I myself work at the Central Office for Combating Pornographic, Violent or Other Publications Harmful to Young People. There has been an extreme expansion due to the internet. There is also an IT connection insofar as the exchange takes place via internet forums, in social media and the Darknet. But general IT-related proceedings will also increase significantly. This concerns everything from Ebay fraud to identity theft.
From the outside, one sometimes gets the impression that the public prosecutor’s offices do not have enough specialised lawyers in these areas. This is perhaps somewhat comparable to the area of white-collar crime, where the impression often arises that the public prosecutor’s offices can no longer cope with the burden of proceedings. That there is too much work for too few prosecutors. Does this impression coincide with your practical experience?
I think these things have to be kept apart. There are two issues here. One is the question of specialisation and the other is the question of the amount of work. As far as specialisation is concerned, it is certainly true that – in contrast to what is perhaps the case in the legal profession – specialisation is not yet so much a prerequisite and that – which simply also has to do with personnel capacities – not all people can always be deployed where they might ideally fit in. But for me, for example, my EULISP knowledge is quite good. I benefit from a certain basic technical understanding, precisely this basis from legal informatics, especially when we have to deal with questions about computers or IT evaluation in our department, for example. It is very helpful if you read reports and understand what is meant by them and you can also discuss them with the technicians of the EDP departments of the respective police stations. Some specialised knowledge, by the way, people also acquire over time in their positions.
What really is a problem, and you have already mentioned this, is the increasing workload in all areas. There is indeed a personnel requirement calculation system, the so-called “Pebb§y”. But in my experience, the workload actually increases more and more over the years. Of course, fiscal issues have an impact here and overall, there is simply a lack of posts everywhere. I think it will be really bad in eastern Germany, where the big waves of retirements are coming up and a lot of people are leaving at the same time. But also, in our country. So, there is definitely too much work for too few prosecutors.
In connection with the digitalisation of the judiciary, the introduction of an electronic file in different variants for civil proceedings is often discussed. One of the demands is for an electronic file for joint processing by all parties to the proceedings. Is this also an issue in the context of criminal proceedings?
It is definitely an issue. As far as I know, the electronic file is supposed to come by 2027 at the latest. Of course, that starts in the civil area, because that’s where it’s easiest if something goes wrong. There, you can restart the proceedings, give over a judicial notice if necessary and everything is fine. In criminal proceedings, if I have a custody case and the electronic file crashes, I can’t negotiate and then I might have to release people from custody, then I have a problem. That’s why criminal law can only come at the very end, when the rest is stable. And that’s what we hope will happen. I’m still a bit skeptical that if you don’t put enough money in your hands to build a sensible solution, it will be really good and that you can take the people who have to work with it with you. But the plans are in place and people are confident that they will get it done. Let’s wait and see.
Very similar problems also arise in the context of the implementation of the OZG. It is important to achieve a common central approach here and to distance oneself a little from these isolated solutions.
Yes, it is impractical that way. For example, there is the so-called Baden file node, which is used in certain parts of Baden-Württemberg. This means that the files are not punched and stapled, but tied together with a ribbon at the top left, through a hole with a special knot that is somehow tucked in and that can also be opened to file new sheets. But you can only do that if you grew up in Baden in the justice system, because that’s where you learn to tie this knot for the first six months. So, when the files come to us, the knot is simply cut. The files are punched, stapled into our file cover – no problem. I’m just not quite sure whether it will work with the electronic files. After all, it must be possible to hand them in nationwide.
I still see many technical hurdles and I’m curious to see how they will be overcome. At the same time, however, I also see a lot of opportunities. It’s a great thing if it’s really well done, especially in the civil process. Then, for example, you can quickly compare the plaintiff’s and defendant’s submissions. You can mark them with different colours and have an automatic file extract made. You can grant access to files in criminal law. Everyone can add notes to their files on layers that are superordinate to the file. So, if this is implemented, as is already technically possible today, anyone can write their notes on the same files without the files being changed and without anyone else seeing what you write down. Technology also holds many opportunities to speed up procedures considerably. And with electronic files, you could also work better in the home office, where now you can’t always cart a suitcase full of files back and forth every day.
Especially since carrying criminal records around with you always carries a certain risk.
That is also added to it. But just from a practical point of view, it’s been very tedious so far. I am confident that if enough money is invested, the e-file will succeed and a reasonable solution will come out of it.
Then I come back to the EULISP for our final question, which is: Looking back, what is the significance of the EULISP for your career?
I would say that the EULISP was the starting point for me because without the EULISP I don’t think I would have got my first job. Then a lot of things would have been different. That’s why I can’t imagine life without it. Without the programme, my whole life would have been different. For me, the EULISP is an elementary building block of my professional life, just like my exams, so it’s a crucial building block that still has an impact on my career path today, even though I no longer work in extremely IT-specific fields.