European Court of Justice
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- The ECJ is the Supreme Court of the European Union (EU); it should not be mistaken for the European Court of Human Rights, a Council of Europe institution.
Template:Politics of the European Union The European Court of Justice (ECJ), formally known as the 'Court of Justice of the European Communities', is the court of the European Union (EU). It is based in Luxembourg, unlike most of the rest of the European Union institutions, which are based in Brussels and Strasbourg.
 General Remarks
The ECJ is the Supreme Court of the European Union in matters over which it has competency (below), but no others - EU member states' supreme courts, or equivalent, are the highest courts in their respective jurisdictions in all other matters, as each nation state has its own soverign and different legal and jurisprudence systems.
It adjudicates on matters of interpretation of European law, most commonly:
- Claims by the European Commission that a member state has not implemented a European Union Directive or other legal requirement.
- Claims by member states that the European Commission has exceeded its authority.
- References from national courts in the EU member states asking the ECJ questions about the meaning or validity of a particular piece of EC law. The Union has many languages and competing political interests, and so local courts often have difficulty deciding what a particular piece of legislation means in any given context. The ECJ will then give its ruling which is binding on the national court, to which, the case will be returned to be disposed of. The ECJ is only permitted to aid in interpretation of the law, not decide the facts of the case itself.
Individuals cannot bring cases to the ECJ directly. An individual who is sufficiently concerned by an act of one of the institutions of the European Union can challenge that act in a lower court, called the Court of First Instance. An appeal on points of law lies against the decisions of the Court of First Instance to the ECJ. Employees of the European Commission and other EU institutions currently sue their employer in the Court of First Instance. However, a specialist European Union Civil Service Tribunal was set up in 2005 to deal with these matters. In addition, the creation of a European Union Patent Tribunal is currently being examined.
 Organization of the Court of Justice
The Court of Justice is made up of 25 Judges and 8 Advocates General. Should the Court so request, the Council of the European Union may, acting unanimously, increase the number of Advocates General. The Judges and Advocates General are appointed by common accord of the governments of the Member States and hold office for a renewable term of six years. They are chosen from legal experts whose independence is 'beyond doubt' and who possess the qualifications required for appointment to the highest judicial offices in their respective countries or who are of recognised competence.
The Judges select one of their number to be President of the Court for a renewable term of three years.He may be re-elected. He directs the judicial business and the administration of the Court; he presides at hearings and deliberations in chambers. He assigns the cases to one of the chambers for any preparatory inquiries and appoints a Judge from the chamber to act as rapporteur. He sets the dates and timetable for the sessions of the Grand Chamber and of the full Court. The President also personally takes a decision on requests for the application of interim measures.
 Presidents of the Court of Justice of the European Communities
- Massimo Pilotti (Italy) 1952-1958
- Andreas Matthias Donner (Netherlands) 1958-1964
- Charles Léon Hammes (Luxembourg) 1964-1967
- Robert Lecourt (France) 1967-1976
- Hans Kutscher (Germany) 1976-1980
- Josse Mertens de Wilmars (Belgium) 1980-1984
- John Mackenzie-Stuart (UK) 1984-1988
- Ole Due (Denmark) 1988-1994
- Gil Carlos Rodriguez Iglesias (Spain) 1994-2003
- Vassilios Skouris (Greece) 2003-present
Each member state of the European Union has the power to nominate one judge, so their number coincides most of the time with the number of member states. However, as the ECJ can only sit with an uneven number of judges, additional judges have been appointed at times when there was an even number of member states. 5 of the 8 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 20 smaller member states; currently (2006), the Netherlands, Austria and Portugal are thus represented. However, being just a bit smaller than Spain, Poland has repeatedly requested to be have a permanent Advocate General.
 Advocates General
Advocates General play a special role within the Court of Justice. They are neither judge nor prosecutor, yet they assist with each case and deliver their opinions on questions.
The Advocates-General assist the Court in its task. They deliver, in open court and with complete impartiality and independence, opinions in all cases, save as otherwise decided by the Court where a case does not raise any new points of law. Their duties should not be confused with those of a public prosecutor or similar body.
Although the Advocates General are full members of the ECJ, it is important to note that they are not judges and they do not take part in the court's deliberations. It is the role of the Advocates General to propose to the Court, in complete independence, a legal solution to the cases for which they are responsible. The Advocate General’s Opinion, although often in fact followed, is not binding on the Court.
The Court appoints the Registrar for a period of six years, after which he may be reappointed. He has the same court duties as the registrar or clerk of a national court, but he also acts as secretary-general of the institution. The Court may also appoint one or more Assistant Registrars. He helps the Court, the Chambers, the President and the Judges in all their official functions. He is responsible for the Registry as well as for the receipt, transmission and custody of documents and pleadings which have been entered in a register initialled by the President. He is Guardian of the Seals and is responsible for the Court's archives and publications. The Registrar is responsible for the administration of the Court, its financial management and its accounts, and he is helped by an administrator.
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 language service, which plays a particularly important role.
 Assistant Rapporteurs
Assistant Rapporteurs may be appointed by the Council, on a proposal from the Court, particularly to assist the President in applications for the adoption of interim measures and to assist Judge-Rapporteurs in the performance of their duties.
 Plenary sessions and chambers
The Court of Justice may sit as a full Court, in a Grand Chamber (13 Judges) or in chambers of three or five Judges. It sits in a Grand Chamber when a Member State or a Community institution that is a party to the proceedings so requests, or in particularly complex or important cases. Other cases are heard by a chamber of three or five Judges. The Presidents of the chambers of five Judges are elected for three years, the Presidents of the chambers of three Judges for one year. The Court sits as a full Court in the very exceptional cases exhaustively provided for by the Treaty (for instance, where it must compulsorily retire the European Ombudsman or a Member of the European Commission who has failed to fulfil his obligations) and where the Court considers that a case is of exceptional importance. The quorum for the full Court is 15.
It is the responsibility of the Court of Justice to ensure that the law is observed in the interpretation and application of the Treaties establishing the European Communities and of the provisions laid down by the competent Community institutions. To enable it to carry out that task, the Court has wide jurisdiction to hear various types of action. The Court has competence, inter alia, 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 and appeals against decisions of the Court of First Instance.
 Forms of action
 Actions for failure to fulfil obligations
Such proceedings enable the Court of Justice to 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. 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, the applicant seeks the annulment of a measure adopted by an institution (regulations, directives, decisions). An action for annulment may be brought by a Member State, by the Community institutions (Parliament, Council, Commission) or by individuals to whom a measure is addressed or which is of direct and individual concern to them.
 Actions for failure to act
The Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance may also review the legality of a failure to act on the part of a Community 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
In applications for compensation, based on non-contractual liability, the Court of First Instance rules on the liability of the Community for damage caused to citizens and to undertakings by its institutions or servants in the performance of their duties.
Lastly, appeals on points of law only may be brought before the Court of Justice against judgments given by the Court of First Instance. If the appeal is admissible and well founded, the Court of Justice sets aside the judgment of the Court of First Instance. 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 Court of First Instance, which is bound by the decision given on appeal.
 References for a preliminary ruling
References for a preliminary ruling are specific to Community law. Whilst the Court of Justice is, by its very nature, the supreme guardian of Community legality, it is not the only judicial body empowered to apply Community law.
That task also falls to national courts, in as much as they retain jurisdiction to review the administrative implementation of Community law, for which the authorities of the Member States are essentially responsible; many provisions of the Treaties and of secondary legislation - regulations, directives and decisions - directly confer individual rights on nationals of Member States, which national courts must uphold. National courts are thus by their nature the first guarantors of Community law. To ensure the effective and uniform application of Community legislation and to prevent divergent interpretations, national courts may, and sometimes must, turn to the Court of Justice and ask that it clarify a point concerning the interpretation of Community law, in order, for example, to ascertain whether their national legislation complies with that law.
A reference for a preliminary ruling may also seek review of the legality of an act of Community law. The Court of Justice’s reply is not merely an opinion, but takes the form of a judgment or a reasoned order. The national court to which that is addressed is bound by the interpretation given. The Court’s judgment also binds other national courts before which a problem of the same nature is raised. References for a preliminary ruling also serve to enable any European citizen to seek clarification of the Community rules which concern him. Although such a reference may be made only by a national court, which alone has the power to decide that it is appropriate do so, all the parties involved – that is to say, the Member States, the parties in the proceedings before national courts and, in particular, the Commission – may take part in proceedings before the Court of Justice. In this way, a number of important principles of Community law have been laid down in preliminary rulings, sometimes in answer to questions referred by national courts of first instance.
 Seat of the Court of Justice
Both the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance have their seats in Luxembourg.
At the conference of July 23, 1952 involving the founder Members of the European Coal and Steel Community, Luxembourg was chosen as the provisional seat for the Court of Justice. Its first hearing was held on October 28, 1954.
The Decision taken by the representatives of the governments of the Member States on April 8, 1965 (relating to the provisional location of certain Community institutions and services) provided for the Court to remain in Luxembourg. That agreement was confirmed by the Decision by common accord of the representatives of governments of the Member States at the Edinburgh European Council on 12 December 1992 (relating to the seats of the institutions and certain bodies and departments of the European Communities). Pursuant to Article 1, the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance have their seats in Luxembourg.
The 1965 Decision stated that future jurisdictional and quasi-jurisdictional bodies would be located in Luxembourg, although that paragraph was not included in the 1992 Decision. Accordingly, in a unilateral declaration, Luxembourg did not renounce the provisions and potentialities of the Decision of 1965. A Protocol on the seats of the institutions was annexed to the treaties by the Treaty of Amsterdam of 2 October 1997. It confirmed the Edinburgh Decision. In a Luxembourg Government Declaration appended to the Treaty of Nice of February 26, 2001, the Grand Duchy undertook not to claim the Seat of the Boards of Appeal of the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market, even if such boards were to become judicial panels.
The ECJ is feared by some Eurosceptics, due to its ruling in 2001 that parts of the German Constitution were illegal as being incompatible with the EU treaties. . The ECJ has ruled, several times, that the law of the European Communities (consisting of treaties, regulations, directives) is supreme to any member state laws.
The ECJ therefore has the power to declare that any national law inconsistent with a law of the European Community is invalid. This practice remained relatively unnoticed since the inception of the European Communities, and has only in recent years attracted scrutiny.
 See also
 External links
- European Court's official website (English)
- Article on EUABC.com
- EU law blog
- ECJBlog.com, blog with daily news about the European Court of Justicecs:Evropský soudní dvůr
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