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The Court of Justice of the European Communities

Future building of the CJEC (Luxembourg), CJCE Future building of the CJEC (Luxembourg) CJCE

The Court of Justice of the European Communities was set up in its first form in 1952 under the Treaty of Paris (ECSC) and received its present name in 1957. It is more commonly known as the 'European Court of Justice' (ECJ) or the 'Court of Justice'. The Court of Justice has its seat in Luxembourg. Its task is to make sure that EU legislation is uniformly interpreted and applied in all the Member States in order to ensure legal certainty for citizens and the rule of law for all. The Court also ensures that the Member States and institutions of the EU comply with Community law. Under Community law, it is empowered to settle legal disputes between the Member States, EU institutions, businesses and individuals.

How does the Court of Justice work?

The Court consists of one judge per Member State, to ensure that all the EU's national legal systems are represented. It sits in chambers of three to five judges, or as a "Grand Chamber" of thirteen judges. In exceptional cases, it sits in plenary session with all the judges. The Court is assisted by eight 'advocates-general' whose role is to make reasoned submissions on the cases brought before the Court. They are required to do so publicly, impartially and independently. Court judges and advocates-general often hold the highest judicial offices in their countries of origin. They are appointed by common accord between the governments of the Member States, for a renewable six-year term.

A 'Court of First Instance (CFI)' was created in 1989 to help the Court of Justice hear the many cases brought before it and provide citizens with better access to justice. The CFI has jurisdiction in actions brought by private individuals and companies against acts of Community institutions, notably in the field of competition law. A 'European Civil Service Tribunal' was also set up in 2006 to rule on disputes between the European Union and its civil service.

The Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance each have a President, appointed by their fellow-judges for a renewable three-year term. Vassilios Skouris, a Greek national, was elected President of the Court of Justice in 2003. Marc Jaeger, of Luxembourg, has been President of the Court of First Instance since 2007.

What does the Court of Justice do?

The Court of Justice rules on cases brought before it, which fall into several different categories:

  • References for preliminary rulings: the national courts in the Member States are responsible for ensuring the proper application of Community law in their respective countries. There is a risk, however, that courts in different countries interpret Community law in different ways. The 'preliminary ruling procedure' was introduced to prevent such situations. Thus, if a national court is in any doubt about the interpretation or validity of a provision of Community law, it may, and sometimes must, seek advice from the Court of Justice by submitting a 'preliminary question'. The Court's advice is given in the form of a 'preliminary ruling'.
  • Actions for failure to fulfil obligations: the Commission can bring such actions before the Court if it has reason to believe that a Member State is failing to fulfil its obligations under Community law. The action may also be brought by another Member State. In either case, the Court investigates the allegations and gives its ruling. If the Court finds that there is an 'infringement' of Community law, the Member State concerned must rectify the situation. If the Court finds the Member State has not complied with its ruling, it may impose a fixed or periodic financial penalty on that State.
  • Actions for annulment: if a Member State, the Council, the Commission or the Parliament - and private individuals and companies if they are directly and individually affected - think that a particular Community law is illegal, they may ask the Court to annul it. If the Court finds that the law in question was incorrectly adopted or is at variance with the Treaties, it may declare that law null and void. The act may thus be deemed never to have existed.
  • Actions for failure to act: the Treaty requires the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission to take certain decisions under certain circumstances. If they do not fulfil this obligation, the Member States, the other Community institutions and, under certain conditions, individuals or companies may lodge a complaint with the Court for this failure to act to be officially recorded.
  • The Court of Justice also plays a very important role through its case-law in terms of the functioning and the evolution of the European Union. The case-law of the Court of Justice helps to clarify Community law and to monitor compliance with it.

The Court of Justice of the European Communities

  • Sources: 

    Court of Justice of the European Communities

  • Updated: 25.06.2008
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