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The judicial system of the European Union: Court of Justice and Court of First Instance

INTRODUCTION

The Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance have been facing a considerable increase in cases and workload over recent years. They are finding it ever more difficult to do their work rapidly and effectively. In the light of this situation and the forthcoming enlargement of the Union to 27 Member States, important measures were taken in the Nice Treaty to improve the operation of the judicial system of the European Union (EU).

These reforms concern mainly the composition of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance, the division of jurisdiction between these two bodies (strengthening the role of the Court of First Instance), the arrangements for adopting their Statute and their rules of procedure and the handling of disputes regarding Community industrial property rights.

The provisions in the Nice Treaty on the judicial system are many: they can be found in nine main Articles, a Protocol on the Statute of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance and five declarations.

THE COURT OF JUSTICE OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES (CJEC)

The Court of Justice comprises as many judges as there are Member States. The number of Advocates-General remains the same (eight), but the Council may at any time decide unanimously to increase their number.

The Statute of the Court of Justice was amended by the Nice Treaty to reorganise its internal structure as a response to the increase in the number of judges as a result of the forthcoming enlargement. To maintain the effectiveness of the jurisdiction and the consistency of its case law, the Court of Justice will be able to sit in a grand chamber of eleven judges (including the President of the Court of Justice and the Presidents of the five-judge chambers). As a general rule, this structure will hear cases already dealt with by the plenary assembly.

With regard to extending the powers of the Court of Justice, the new Article 229A of the Treaty Establishing the European Community (EC Treaty) created a legal basis to allow the Council, acting unanimously, to adopt provisions to confer jurisdiction on the Court of Justice in disputes relating to industrial property rights. This provision applies essentially to disputes between private individuals concerning the future Community patent. This Council Decision will not come into force until after ratification by the Member States.

The Nice Treaty also extended the European Parliament's right of recourse before the Court of Justice (Article 230 EC). The European Parliament can now bring a case to the Court of Justice under the same conditions as the other institutions.

Finally, the Treaty introduced greater flexibility to adapt the judicial system in future by settling a number of points in the Court of Justice's Statute (including the division of jurisdiction), which can be amended by the Council at the request of the Court of Justice or the Commission. However, it did keep the requirement that there be unanimity for any amendment to the Statute of the Court of Justice, although the Council may now approve the rules of procedure for the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance by a qualified majority.

THE COURT OF FIRST INSTANCE OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES (CFIEC)

The essential provisions concerning the Court of First Instance, incorporated until now in the Decision establishing the CFIEC, are now incorporated in the EC Treaty in Articles 210, 220, 224, 225, and 225A.

The Nice Treaty stipulates that the Court of First Instance shall comprise at least one judge per Member State. The exact number of judges shall be determined by the Statute of the Court of Justice (Article 224 EC).

The Nice Treaty also extended the jurisdiction of the Court of First Instance. It is still the competent body to hear direct appeals, with the exception of those which, pursuant to the Statute of the Court of Justice, are dealt with by the latter. The rulings of the Court of First Instance may be re-examined by the Court of Justice if there is a serious risk to the unity or consistency of EU law. Moreover, even though the Court of Justice retains, in principle, competence for questions referred for preliminary ruling, the Statute may give competence for preliminary rulings to the Court of First Instance in specific cases.
The new Treaty also provides the possibility for the Council to create specialist judicial chambers to hear various categories of appeal concerning certain subjects in the first instance. For example, Declaration No 16, annexed to the Treaty, calls on the Court of Justice and the Commission to prepare a draft decision to create a judicial chamber of this kind to rule on disputes between the Community and its servants (Article 236 EC).

In general, as for the Court of Justice, the Treaty introduced greater flexibility to adapt the judicial system in the future by regulating the composition and the allocation of powers in the Court of First Instance's Statute, which may be amended by the Council without the need to amend the Treaty in accordance with the formal procedure. The rules of procedure of the Court of First Instance are adopted by the Council by qualified majority, as is the case for the Court of Justice.

DIVISION OF JURISDICTION BETWEEN THE COURT OF JUSTICE AND THE COURT OF FIRST INSTANCE

The Treaty establishes the division of jurisdiction between these two bodies but specifies that it may be adjusted by their respective Statutes (Article 225 EC).

The Court of First instance is now competent for all direct actions, in particular proceedings for annulment (Article 230 EC), for failure to act (Article 232 EC) and for damage (Article 235 EC), with the exception of those allocated to a judicial chamber and those which the Statute reserves for the Court of Justice.

The Court of Justice, as the supreme judicial institution of the Union, retains competence for other judicial actions on fundamental questions for the Community order and carries out this mission by way of questions referred by the national jurisdictions for a preliminary ruling. However, the Treaty provides that the Statute may empower the Court of First Instance with preliminary competence in certain areas.

To clarify the details of this division of jurisdiction, Declaration No 12 annexed to the Treaty calls on the Court and the Commission to review together the division of jurisdiction as soon as possible, so that appropriate proposals can be examined once the Nice Treaty comes into force.

SUMMARY TABLE

ArticlesSubject
EC Treaty220 to 225A - 229A and 230Court of Justice
210, 220, 224, 225 and 225ACourt of First Instance
Treaty de Nice - ProtocolProtocol on the Statute of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance-
Treaty de Nice - Declarations No 12 to 17Division of jurisdiction, review procedure, processing of disputes between the Community and its servants, disputes concerning industrial property rights-
Last updated: 13.09.2007
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