The Contergan trial in Germany

The so-called "Contergan trial" started on May 27, 1968 in the criminal division of the District Court DC Aachen in Alsdorf.

To present day, the criminal case against nine senior members of  Grünenthal´s staff is considered as one of the most complex trials in the German legal history. The legal and medical questions raised by the thalidomide tragedy were complex and difficult. The investigation by the prosecution and the police and the preparations for the trial took almost six and a half years.  The criminal trial before the Aachen District Court itself lasted for more than two and a half years.

On December 18, 1970, after 283 hearing days in court, the Criminal Court, comprising a panel of five judges, decided to discontinue the proceedings with the approval of the public prosecutor.  In their written decision to discontinue proceedings, the Court held that it had not yet seen any evidence that Grünenthal should have foreseen the teratogenic effects of thalidomide (i.e. its potential to cause birth defects) in view of the limited scientific knowledge and the industry standards at the time. Rather, the court pointed out that, even though it had not yet concluded the taking of evidence, all experts it had heard so far had more or less clearly dismissed the foreseeability of the teratogenic effects of thalidomide.  At the time, the general public and the media also largely endorsed the decision of the criminal court to discontinue the trial as a reasonable decision.

Historical picture of the criminal trial before the Aachen District Court