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Court of Justice
Established 1952
Jurisdiction European Union
Location Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Number of positions 27+8
Website [1]
Currently Vassilios Skouris
Since 2003

The European Court of Justice (officially the Court of Justice), is the highest court in the European Union in matters of European Union law. As a part of the Court of Justice of the European Union it is tasked with interpreting EU law and ensuring its equal application across all EU member states.[1] The Court was established in 1952 and is based in Luxembourg. It is composed of one judge per member state — currently 27 — although it normally hears cases in panels of three, five or thirteen judges. The court is led by a President who has been Vassilios Skouris since 2003.[1]



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The court was established in 1952, by the Treaty of Paris (1951) as part of the European Coal and Steel Community.[1] It was established with seven judges, allowing both representation of each of the six member States and being an unequal number of judges in case of a tie. One judge was appointed from each member state and the seventh seat rotated between the "large Member States" (Germany, France and Italy). It became an institution of two additional Communities in 1957 when the Treaties of Rome established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).[2][3]

When in 1993 the Maastricht Treaty created the European Union, the name of the court did not change like the other institutions, as its powers were still primarily over the European Community pillar of the union.[3]

Following the entrance into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, the ECJ's official name was changed from the "Court of Justice of the European Communities" to the "Court of Justice" although in English it is still most common to refer to the Court as the European Court of Justice. The Court of First Instance was renamed as the "General Court", and the term "Court of Justice of the European Union" will officially designate the two courts, as along with its specialised tribunals, taken together.[4]


The ECJ is the highest court of the European Union in matters of Community law, but not national law. It is not possible to appeal the decisions of national courts to the ECJ, but rather national courts refer questions of EU law to the ECJ. However, it is ultimately for the national court to apply the resulting interpretation to the facts of any given case. This allows even the lowest of courts to refer question of EU law for a decision, although only courts of final appeal are bound to refer a question of EU law when one is raised before it. The treaties charge the ECJ with ensuring the consistent application of EU law across the EU as a whole, in an attempt to avoid different national courts interpreting and applying in different way.

The Court building in Luxembourg

The court also acts as arbiter between the EU's institutions and can annul the latter's legal rights if it acts outside its powers.[1]

The judicial body is now undergoing strong growth, as witnessed by its continually rising caseload and budget. The Luxembourg courts received more than 1300 cases when the most recent data was recorded in 2008, a record. The staff budget also hit a new high of almost €238 million in 2009.[5]




The Court of Justice consists of 27 Judges who are assisted by 8 Advocates-General. The Judges and Advocates-General are appointed by common accord of the governments of the member states[6] and hold office for a renewable term of six years. The treaties require that 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.[6] In practice, each member state nominates a judge whose nomination is then ratified by all the other member states.[7]

The President of the Court of Justice is elected from and by the judges for a renewable term of three years. The president presides over hearings and deliberations, directing both judicial business and administration (for example, the time table of the Court and Grand Chamber). They also assigns cases to the chambers for examination and appoints judge as rapporteurs (reporting judges).[8] The Council may also appoint assistant rapporteurs to assist the President in applications for interim measures and to assist rapporteurs in the performance of their duties.[9]


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.[10] 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.[1] 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.[11]

Vassilios Skouris, the current President of the Court
Term President State
1952–1958 Massimo Pilotti  Italy
1958–1964 Andreas Matthias Donner  Netherlands
1964–1967 Charles Léon Hammes  Luxembourg
1967–1976 Robert Lecourt  France
1976–1980 Hans Kutscher  Germany
1980–1984 Josse Mertens de Wilmars  Belgium
1984–1988 John Mackenzie-Stuart  United Kingdom
1988–1994 Ole Due  Denmark
1994–2003 Gil Carlos Rodriguez Iglesias  Spain
2003–present Vassilios Skouris  Greece
Source: "The Presidents of the Court of Justice". European NAvigator. Retrieved 2007-07-13. 


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.[12] As of 2003, Advocates-General are only required to give an opinion if the Court considered the case raises a new point of law.[1][13]

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 Portugal, Slovakia and Slovenia.[14] 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.[15]

The Registrar

The Registrar is the Court's chief administrator. They manage departments under the authority of the Court's President,[13] 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, as of 2006 employed 45% of the staff of the institution.[16]


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 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 and appeals against decisions of the Court of First Instance.[1]

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 bought 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.[17]

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.[18] 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 judgement, it may, upon the request of the Commission, impose on the Member State a fixed or a periodic financial penalty.

Van Gend en Loos v Nederlandse Administratie der Belastingen

Costa v ENEL

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 Court of First Instance 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 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 based on non-contractual liability

Under Article 235 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (and with reference to Article 288), the Court of Justice hears claims for compensation based on non-contractual liability, 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, appeals on judgements given by the Court of First Instance 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 judgement 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. Petitions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling are described in Article 267 (ex Article 234) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

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 judgement or a reasoned order. The national court to which that is addressed is bound by the interpretation given. The Court’s judgement 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 that 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.

In the ECJ's 2008 report it was noted that German, Italian and Dutch judges made the most referrals for an interpretation of EU law to the ECJ. However, the German Constitutional Court has never turned to the European Court of Justice, which is why lawyers and law professors warn about a future judicial conflict between the two courts.


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 [2] 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.


Court of Justice building in Luxembourg

All the EU's judicial bodies are based in Luxembourg, separate from the political institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg. 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. Its first hearing there was held on 28 November 1954 in a building down as Villa Vauban, the seat until 1959 when it would move to the Côte d'Eich building and then to the Palais building in 1972.[19]

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 at Edinburgh 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. With the Treaty of Nice 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.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "The Court of Justice". Europa (web portal). Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  2. ^ Muñoz, Susana. "Composition of the Court of Justice, the Court of First Instance of the European Communities and of the Civil Service Tribunal". Europa (web portal). Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  3. ^ a b Muñoz, Susana. "The Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance of the European Communities". European Navigator. Retrieved 2009-02-01. 
  4. ^ See SCADPlus: The Institutions of the Union and article 2.3n of the Draft Reform Treaty of 23 July 2007
  5. ^ [ "EU High Court Amassing Strength & Reach , Art. 13"]. Courthouse News Service. 2009-09-10. 
  6. ^ a b Article 253 (ex Article 223) of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union.
  7. ^ Simon Hix (2005). The Political System of the European Union (2nd ed.). Palgrave. p. 117. 
  8. ^ Muñoz, Susana. "Organisation of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance of the European Communities". European NAvigator. Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  9. ^ "Protocol on the Statute of the Court of Justice, Art. 13". European Union. 2002-12-24. 
  10. ^ As can be seen from the decline in cases pending before the full court: Annual Report, 2007, The Court of Justice of the European Communities, p. 94, 
  11. ^ Craig and de Búrca, page 95.
  12. ^ Craig and de Búrca, page 70.}}
  13. ^ a b "The Court of Justice of the European Communities". Court of Justice. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  14. ^ As determined from its members list.
  15. ^ "Lisbon Treaty". Government of the Republic of Slovenia. Retrieved 4 February 2009. 
  16. ^ "Departments of the Institution: Translation". The European Union, ECJ. Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  17. ^ Desmond Dinan, Ever Closer Union: An Introduction to European Integration, p292-293.
  18. ^ see for instance 141/78 France v. United Kingdom, C-388/95 Belgium v. Spain and C-145/04 Spain v. United Kingdom.
  19. ^ a b Muñoz, Susana. "Seat of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance of the European Communities.". European NAvigator. Retrieved 2007-07-28. 

Further reading

  • Craig, Paul; de Búrca, Gráinne (2003). EU Law, Text, Cases and Materials (3rd ed. ed.). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-924943-1. 

External links

Coordinates: 49°37′16″N 6°08′26″E / 49.621050°N 6.140616°E / 49.621050; 6.140616


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