European Court of Justice

European Court of Justice

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The Court can sit in plenary session, as a Grand Chamber of 13 judges, or in chambers of three or five judges. Plenary sitting are now very rare, and the court mostly sits in chambers of three or five judges. Each chamber elects its own president who is elected for a term of three years in the case of the five-judge chambers or one year in the case of three-judge chambers.

The Court is required to sit in full court in exceptional cases provided for in the treaties. The court may also decide to sit in full, if the issues raised are considered to be of exceptional importance. Sitting as a Grand Chamber is more common and can happen when a Member State or a Union institution, that is a party to certain proceedings, so requests, or in particularly complex or important cases.

The court acts as a collegial body: decisions are those of the court rather than of individual judges; no minority opinions are given and indeed the existence of a majority decision rather than unanimity is never suggested.

List of presidents of European Court of Justice

# Term President State
1952–1958 Massimo Pilotti
Massimo Pilotti
Massimo Pilotti was an Italian jurist and judge. Pilotti was the first President of the European Court of Justice at Luxembourg....

1 1958–1964 Andreas Matthias Donner
Andreas Matthias Donner
Andreas Matthias Donner was a Dutch judge and the second President of the European Court of Justice, a position which he served between 1958 and 1964. Donner stems from a prominent Dutch Reformed family of jurists...

2 1964–1967 Charles Léon Hammes
Charles Léon Hammes
Charles Léon Hammes was a Luxembourgian lawyer, judge and the third President of the European Court of Justice.Hammes was born in 1898 in Falk, Luxembourg...

3 1967–1976 Robert Lecourt
Robert Lecourt
Robert Lecourt was a French politician and lawyer, judge and the fourth President of the European Court of Justice.Lecourt was born in Pavilly, Seine-Maritime...

4 1976–1980 Hans Kutscher
Hans Kutscher
Hans Kutscher was a member of the first and second Senate of the German Constitutional Court and later a member and then President of the European Court of Justice....

5 1980–1984 Josse Mertens de Wilmars
Josse Mertens de Wilmars
Baron Joseph Marie Honoré Charles Mertens de Wilmars was a Belgian jurist who became a member of the European Court of Justice and then its sixth President....

6 1984–1988 John Mackenzie-Stuart
7 1988–1994 Ole Due
Ole Due
Ole Due , was a Danish judge and the President of the European Court of Justice.Ole Due was born on 10 February 1931 in Denmark. He had a successful career at the Danish Ministry of Justice, culminating in his appointment as Director...

8 1994–2003 Gil Carlos Rodriguez Iglesias
Gil Carlos Rodriguez Iglesias
Gil Carlos Rodríguez Iglesias is a former Spanish judge at the European Court of Justice . He was 9th President of the Court from 7 October 1994 to 7 October 2003....

9 7 October 2003-incumbent
Term expires 31 October 2014
Vassilios Skouris
Vassilios Skouris
Vassilios Skouris is a Greek judge who has been President of the European Court of Justice since 2003. A European legal scholar, he served briefly in the government of Greece as Minister of the Interior in 1989 and again in 1996....

Source:


Advocates-General


The judges are assisted by eight Advocates-General who are responsible for presenting a legal opinion on the cases assigned to them. They can question the parties involved and then give their opinion on a legal solution to the case before the judges deliberate and deliver their judgement. The intention behind having Advocates-General attached is to provide independent and impartial opinions concerning the Court's cases. Unlike the Court's judgements, the written opinions of the Advocates-General are the works of a single author and are consequently generally more readable and deal with the legal issues more comprehensively than the Court, which is limited to the particular matters at hand. The AGs opinions are advisory and do not bind the Court, but they are nonetheless very influential and are followed in the majority of cases. As of 2003, Advocates-General are only required to give an opinion if the Court considered the case raises a new point of law.

Five of the eight Advocates-General are nominated as of right by the 5 big member states of the European Union: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain. The other 3 positions rotate in alphabetical order between the 22 smaller member states: currently Slovakia
Slovakia
The Slovak Republic is a landlocked state in Central Europe. It has a population of over five million and an area of about . Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south...

, Slovenia
Slovenia
Slovenia , officially the Republic of Slovenia , is a country in Central and Southeastern Europe touching the Alps and bordering the Mediterranean. Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north, and also has a small portion of...

 and Finland
Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

. Being only a little smaller than Spain, Poland has repeatedly requested a permanent Advocate General. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the number of Advocates-General may - if the Court so requests - be increased to 11, with six being held permanently, by the six biggest states (adding Poland to the above mentioned five states), and five being rotated between the other member states.

The Registrar


The Registrar is the Court's chief administrator. They manage departments under the authority of the Court's President, who is appointed by the Court for a renewable term of six years. The Court may also appoint one or more Assistant Registrars. They help the Court, the Chambers, the President and the Judges in all their official functions. They are responsible for the Registry as well as for the receipt, transmission and custody of documents and pleadings that have been entered in a register initialed by the President. They are Guardian of the Seals and responsible for the Court's archives and publications. The Registrar is responsible for the administration of the Court, its financial management and its accounts. The operation of the Court is in the hands of officials and other servants who are responsible to the Registrar under the authority of the President. The Court administers its own infrastructure; this includes the Translation Directorate, which, employed 45% of the staff of the institution.

Jurisdiction


It is the responsibility of the Court of Justice to ensure that the law is observed in the interpretation and application of the Treaties of the European Union
Treaties of the European Union
The Treaties of the European Union are a set of international treaties between the European Union member states which sets out the EU's constitutional basis. They establish the various EU institutions together with their remit, procedures and objectives...

 and of the provisions laid down by the competent Community institutions. To enable it to carry out that task, the Court has broad jurisdiction to hear various types of action. The Court has competence, among other things, to rule on applications for annulment or actions for failure to act brought by a Member State or an institution, actions against Member States for failure to fulfil obligations, references for a preliminary ruling
Preliminary ruling
A preliminary ruling is a decision of the European Court of Justice on the interpretation of European Union law, made at the request of a court of a European Union member state. The name is somewhat of a misnomer in that preliminary rulings are not subject to a final determination of the matters...

 and appeal
Appeal
An appeal is a petition for review of a case that has been decided by a court of law. The petition is made to a higher court for the purpose of overturning the lower court's decision....

s against decisions of the General Court .

Landmark decisions


Over time ECJ developed two essential rules on which the legal order rests: direct effect and supremacy. The court first ruled on the direct effect of primary legislation in a case that, though technical and tedious, raised a fundamental principle of Community law. In Van Gend en Loos (1963), a Dutch transport firm brought a complaint against Dutch customs for increasing the duty on a product imported from Germany. The court ruled that the Community constitutes a new legal order and the subjects of which comprise not only the member states but also their nationals. The principle of direct effect would have had little impact if Community law did not supersede national law. Without supremacy the member states could simply ignore EU rules. In Costa v ENEL (1964), the court ruled that member states had definitively transferred sovereign rights to the Community and Community law could not be overridden by domestic law.

Actions for failure to fulfil obligations


Under Article 258 (ex Article 226) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the Court of Justice may determine whether a Member State has fulfilled its obligations under Community law. The commencement of proceedings before the Court of Justice is preceded by a preliminary procedure conducted by the Commission, which gives the Member State the opportunity to reply to the complaints against it. If that procedure does not result in termination of the failure by the Member State, an action for breach of Community law may be brought before the Court of Justice. That action may be brought by the Commission – as is practically always the case – or by another Member State, although the cases of the latter kind remain extremely rare. If the Court finds that an obligation has not been fulfilled, the Member State concerned must terminate the breach without delay. If, after new proceedings are initiated by the Commission, the Court of Justice finds that the Member State concerned has not complied with its judgment, it may, upon the request of the Commission, impose on the Member State a fixed or a periodic financial penalty.

Actions for annulment


By an action for annulment under Article 263 (ex Article 230) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the applicant seeks the annulment of a measure (regulation, directive or decision) adopted by an institution. The Court of Justice has exclusive jurisdiction over actions brought by a Member State against the European Parliament and/or against the Council (apart from Council measures in respect of State aid, dumping and implementing powers) or brought by one Community institution against another. The General Court has jurisdiction, at first instance, in all other actions of this type and particularly in actions brought by individuals. The Court of Justice has the power to declare measures void under Article 264 (ex Article 231) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Actions for failure to act


Under Article 265 (ex Article 232) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the Court of Justice and the General Court may also review the legality of a failure to act on the part of a Union institution. However, such an action may be brought only after the institution has been called on to act. Where the failure to act is held to be unlawful, it is for the institution concerned to put an end to the failure by appropriate measures.

Application for compensation based on non-contractual liability


Under Article 268 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (and with reference to Article 340), the Court of Justice hears claims for compensation based on non-contractual liability
Tort
A tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a wrong that involves a breach of a civil duty owed to someone else. It is differentiated from a crime, which involves a breach of a duty owed to society in general...

, and rules on the liability of the Community for damage to citizens and to undertakings caused by its institutions or servants in the performance of their duties.

Appeals on points of law


Under Article 256 (ex Article 225) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, appeal
Appeal
An appeal is a petition for review of a case that has been decided by a court of law. The petition is made to a higher court for the purpose of overturning the lower court's decision....

s on judgments given by the General Court may be heard by the Court of Justice only if the appeal is on a point of law. If the appeal is admissible and well founded, the Court of Justice sets aside the judgment of the General Court. Where the state of the proceedings so permits, the Court may itself decide the case. Otherwise, the Court must refer the case back to the General Court, which is bound by the decision given on appeal.

Procedure


The ECJ has its own Rules of Procedure. As a rule the Court’s procedure includes a written phase and an oral phase. The proceedings are in a language chosen by the applicant. The working language of the Court, however, including the language in which the judges deliberate and the language in which preliminary reports and judgments are drafted is French. This makes the ECJ, along with the General Court of the European Union, the only international court where French is the sole working language. The Advocates-General, by contrast, may work and draft their opinions in any official language, as they do not take part in any deliberations. These opinions are then translated into French for the benefit of the judges and their deliberations.

Seat


All the EU's judicial bodies are based in Luxembourg
Luxembourg (city)
The city of Luxembourg , also known as Luxembourg City , is a commune with city status, and the capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. It is located at the confluence of the Alzette and Pétrusse Rivers in southern Luxembourg...

, separate from the political institutions in Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 and Strasbourg
Strasbourg
Strasbourg is the capital and principal city of the Alsace region in eastern France and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Located close to the border with Germany, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin département. The city and the region of Alsace are historically German-speaking,...

. The Court of Justice is based in the Palais building, currently under expansion, in the Kirchberg district of Luxembourg.

Luxembourg was chosen as the provisional seat of the Court on 23 July 1952 with the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community
European Coal and Steel Community
The European Coal and Steel Community was a six-nation international organisation serving to unify Western Europe during the Cold War and create the foundation for the modern-day developments of the European Union...

. Its first hearing there was held on 28 November 1954 in a building known as Villa Vauban
Villa Vauban
The Villa Vauban is an art museum in Luxembourg City. Recently renovated and extended, it exhibits 18th and 19th century paintings acquired from private collections.-Background:...

, the seat until 1959 when it would move to the Côte d'Eich building and then to the Palais building in 1972.

In 1965, the member states established Luxembourg as the permanent seat of the Court. Future judicial bodies (Court of First Instance and Civil Service Tribunal) would also be based in the city. The decision was confirmed by the European Council
European Council
The European Council is an institution of the European Union. It comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states, along with the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council, currently Herman Van Rompuy...

 at Edinburgh
Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

 in 1992. However there was no reference to future bodies being in Luxembourg. In reaction to this, the Luxembourgian government issued its own declaration stating it did not surrender those provisions agreed upon in 1965. The Edinburgh decision was attached to the Amsterdam Treaty
Amsterdam Treaty
The Amsterdam Treaty, officially the Treaty of Amsterdam amending the Treaty of the European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related acts, was signed on 2 October 1997, and entered into force on 1 May 1999; it made substantial changes to the Maastricht Treaty,...

. With the Treaty of Nice
Treaty of Nice
The Treaty of Nice was signed by European leaders on 26 February 2001 and came into force on 1 February 2003. It amended the Maastricht Treaty and the Treaty of Rome...

 Luxembourg attached a declaration stating it did not claim the seat of the Boards of Appeal of the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market - even if it were to become a judicial body.

Impact on European integration


The ECJ has been the subject of more empirical, social science research than any other court, other than the U.S. Supreme Court. This research has demonstrated that the ECJ's rulings have stimulated integration, often pushing far beyond what the Member States wanted or expected. Its rulings have also exerted profound effects on policy processes and outcomes within the EU.

Criticism


The status and jurisdiction of the ECJ has increasingly been questioned by member states.

In Germany, the former President Roman Herzog
Roman Herzog
Roman Herzog is a German politician as a member of the Christian Democratic Union, and served as President of Germany from 1994 to 1999...

 warned that the ECJ was overstepping its powers, writing that "the ECJ deliberately and systematically ignores fundamental principles of the Western interpretation of law, that its decisions are based on sloppy argumentation, that it ignores the will of the legislator, or even turns it into its opposite, and invents legal principles serving as grounds for later judgements." Herzog is particularly critical in its analysis of the Mangold Judgement
Mangold judgement
Mangold v Helm was a case before the European Court of Justice . Mangold was a 54-year-old German man employed on a fixed term contract in a permanent full-time job. According to German law, fixed term contracts are unlawful unless they can be objectively justified...

, which overruled a German law that would discriminate in favour of older workers.

The President of the Constitutional Court of Belgium, Marc Bossuyt, said that both the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is a supra-national court established by the European Convention on Human Rights and hears complaints that a contracting state has violated the human rights enshrined in the Convention and its protocols. Complaints can be brought by individuals or...

 were taking on more and more powers by extending their competences, creating a serious threat of a "government by judges". He stated that "they fabricate rulings in important cases with severe financial consequences for governments without understanding the national rules because they are composed out of foreign judges."

Some MEP
MEP
MEP may refer to:* Member of the European Parliament, an elected politician in the European Union * Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing, a part of the building design industry...

s and industry spokesmen have criticised the ruling against the use of gender as factor in determining premiums for insurance products. British Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim
Sajjad Karim
Sajjad Haider Karim also known as Saj is a Member of the European Parliament for North West England.Karim was the first British Muslim elected to the European Parliament on 4 June 2004. He was re-elected in June 2009.-Early life:...

 remarked, "Once again we have seen how an activist European Court can over-interpret the treaty. The EU's rules on sex discrimination specifically permit discrimination in insurance if there is data to back it up".

See also


  • List of notable European Court of Justice rulings
  • European Court of Human Rights
    European Court of Human Rights
    The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is a supra-national court established by the European Convention on Human Rights and hears complaints that a contracting state has violated the human rights enshrined in the Convention and its protocols. Complaints can be brought by individuals or...

  • European Free Trade Association Court
  • Relationship between the European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights
    Relationship between the European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights
    The relationship between the European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights is an issue in European Union law and human rights law...


Further reading

  • Alec Stone Sweet
    Alec Stone Sweet
    Alec Stone Sweet grew up in Bellingham, Washington. He is Leitner Professor of Law, Politics, and International Studies at the Yale Law School, and a notable author, musician, and Petanque player.-Scholarship:...

    , The Judicial Construction of Europe (Oxford University Press, 2004)http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199275526.do?
  • Alec Stone Sweet
    Alec Stone Sweet
    Alec Stone Sweet grew up in Bellingham, Washington. He is Leitner Professor of Law, Politics, and International Studies at the Yale Law School, and a notable author, musician, and Petanque player.-Scholarship:...

    , "The European Court of Justice and the Judicialization of EU Governance," Living Reviews in European Governance 5 (2010) 2, http://www.livingreviews.org/lreg-2010-2.

External links