Created in 1989, the role of the Court of First Instance is to ensure that the Community institutions and Member States comply with the law in interpreting and applying the founding treaties. It constitutes a two-tier judicial authority which enabled the caseload of the Court of Justice to be reduced. It also enabled the protection of parties' interests to be strengthened and cases to be dealt with more quickly. With the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, the General Court loses its title of “First Instance”, but keeps its role of first-tier of judicial authority for a whole series of actions or proceedings presented before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
The General Court sits in Luxembourg and has 27 judges. The number of Judges of the General Court is determined by the Statute of the Court of Justice, which may also provide for the General Court to be exceptionally assisted by Advocates-General. The members of the General Court are chosen from persons whose independence is beyond doubt and who possess the ability required for appointment to high judicial office. They are appointed by common accord of the governments of the Member States for a renewable term of six years following an opinion given by a panel consisting of seven persons from European or national judicial institutions (Article 255 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)).
The Judges elect the President of the General Court from among their number for a term of three years. S/he may be re-elected.
The General Court appoints its Registrar and lay down the rules governing his/her service.
The General Court establishes its Rules of Procedure in agreement with the Court of Justice. Those Rules require the approval of the Council by qualified majority.
The General Court has jurisdiction for all direct actions brought by individuals and by Member States (principally annulment, failure to act and liability), with the exception of those assigned to a specialised court (Article 257 of the TFEU) and those reserved for the Court. Decisions given by the General Court may be subject to a right of appeal before the CJEU on points of law only.
The General Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine questions referred for a preliminary ruling in specific areas laid down by the Statute. If it considers that the response to the question is likely to affect the unity or consistency of Union law, it may refer the case to the Court of Justice. For this reason, the Court of Justice may exceptionally review decisions given by the General Court on questions referred for a preliminary ruling.