Select Committee on European Communities Twenty-Fifth Report


9 June 1998

  By the Select Committee appointed to consider Community proposals, whether in draft or otherwise, to obtain all necessary information about them, and to make reports on those which, in the opinion of the Committee, raise important questions of policy or principle, and on other questions to which the Committee considers that the special attention of the House should be drawn.


Un-numbered Proposals to amend the Rules of Procedure of the Court of First Instance of the European Communities to enable it to give decisions in cases when constituted by a single Judge.


  1.    The Court of First Instance (the CFI) was created in 1988. This was in part a response to the delays which were building up in the Court of Justice. There was also a concern that certain types of case (such as appeals against Commission decisions applying the EC Treaty's competition rules) which required detailed consideration of a substantial body of complex factual evidence should be examined more thoroughly. The Committee supported the creation of the CFI.[1]

  2.    The CFI started hearing cases in 1989. Since then, its jurisdiction and case load has increased to the extent that it now has a substantial backlog. The annual number of cases registered has climbed from 55 in 1990 to 624 in 1997. Over the same period, there has been a significant increase in the number of cases pending each year before the CFI, reaching a peak of 1,106 at the end of 1997. Although the rate at which the CFI has been able to dispose of cases has also increased, it has not kept pace with the number of new cases it has received. Both the Community Courts have been looking at ways to reduce the backlog and, generally, to speed up the handling of cases.

The proposal

  3.    The essence of the present proposal is that certain types of case, principally those which do not raise complex legal issues, should be able to be heard by a single Judge. Although certain matters, such as applications for interim measures, are dealt with at present by one Judge (normally the President), the general rule is that the CFI sits and hears cases in panels ("Chambers") of three or five.

  4.    The circumstances in which a Judge could sit alone are narrowly circumscribed in the proposal. Cases involving the competition, State aid and anti-dumping rules of the EC Treaty are expressly excluded, as are cases concerning the validity of legislation of general application. It is envisaged that in practice a single Judge will hear cases where there is a large volume of litigation and well developed case law. One example is disputes between Community institutions and members of their staff relating to their employment ("staff cases").

  5.    The decision whether a case will be heard by a single Judge will be taken in each case by the Chamber of three Judges to which the case has been initially allocated. Parties will have a right to make written representations on the question of delegation before the decision is taken. Member States and Community institutions may insist on cases in which they are involved being heard by a Chamber of three or five.

  6.    The proposal formally comprises a request from the Court of Justice for amendments to the Council Decision establishing the CFI and from the CFI for approval for amendment of its Rules of Procedure. Both elements require the unanimous agreement of the Council. Before it approves the amendments to the Decision the Council must consult the European Parliament and the Commission. Their opinions are still awaited.

The enquiry

  7.    The matter has proved to be somewhat controversial. A number of those representing lawyers practising before the Community Courts have objected to the proposal both in principle and on practical grounds. They say that it offends the principle of collegiality which is fundamental to the legitimacy of the CFI. They do not think that in practice it will save much time and resources.

  8.    Sub-Committee E decided to undertake a brief enquiry into the matter. It received written submissions from a number of interested bodies and individuals. The Sub-Committee took oral evidence from the Council of the Bars and Law Societies of the European Union (CCBE), Judges and the Registrar of the Court of First Instance and officials from the Foreign Office and Treasury Solicitor's Department.

The Committee's conclusions

  9.    The Committee supports the proposal which, if adopted, is likely to have a modest but significant impact in improving the efficiency of the CFI. It could appreciably increase the productivity of the Court and reduce the time taken to dispose of cases, while remaining within the Court's existing resources. The use of a single Judge would not significantly detract from the collegiate nature of the Court, which is reinforced by the location and structure of the Court and the interaction, informal as well as formal, between its Judges. The list of cases eligible for hearing by a single Judge is conservatively drawn, as is appropriate at the outset. The proposal, in the view of the Committee, should be adopted and implemented without delay.

  10.    The single Judge proposal is not a complete solution to the problems confronting the CFI, though it would be an important step in the right direction. The Community Courts should continue to look for improvements, preferably without additional cost. The Committee considers certain reforms in particular might be given further attention. The Community Courts should be enabled to be more the masters of their own procedures. The CFI should consider the establishment of a Users' Committee. However, more Judges will in due course be needed, in addition to any increase consequent upon enlargement. Having regard to the likely workload from the Community Trade Mark Regulation and other developments, some of those appointed should have expertise in intellectual property law.

The structure of the Report

  11.    The structure of the Report is as follows. Part 2 (Background) describes the CFI and the proposal in more detail. Part 3 sets out the issues and the evidence. Part 4 contains the Opinion of the Committee. The text of the proposal is reproduced in Appendix 3. Appendix 4 contains tables of statistics of the CFI.

  12.    The membership of Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions) is listed in Appendix 1. The Sub-Committee would like to thank all the witnesses who gave evidence in the enquiry, particularly Judge Vesterdorf (President of the CFI), Judge Bellamy, Judge Potocki and Mr Jung (Registrar) who travelled from Luxembourg to answer the Committee's questions. The witnesses are listed in Appendix 2. The evidence, both written and oral, is printed with the Report. The Committee also thanks Professor Anthony Arnull of Birmingham University who acted as Specialist Adviser in this enquiry for his invaluable assistance.

1   A European Court of First Instance, 5th Report, 1987-88, HL Paper 20 ("1987 Report"). Back

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