The Workload of the Court of Justice of the European Union - European Union Committee Contents

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

1.  The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is one of the Union's seven principal institutions.[1] Its role is to "ensure that in the interpretation and application of the Treaties the law is observed"[2] and like the EU's other six[3] institutions it is required to promote, advance and serve the Union's interests, including those of the Union's citizens and its Member States, and act within the limits of the powers conferred on them by the Treaties.[4]

2.  A simple reading of the relevant Treaty articles, however, does little to convey the important role that the CJEU performs within the EU, a role which is central to the effective functioning of the Union. The importance of the Court's central role was summarised by the Attorney General when he told us that the Government supported "an effective and efficient Court ensuring that EU law is uniformly interpreted and applied in all Member States to ensure a level playing field for UK businesses operating in other Member States, and that British citizens living and working across Member States enjoy the full benefits of EU law".[5]

3.  It is impossible to place a precise figure on the importance of the CJEU's role in the operation of, for instance, the Single Market. Delay has a cost that impacts directly on litigants and individuals operating in the internal market. Allowing the CJEU to suffer sclerosis in the delivery of justice would bring both the CJEU and the wider EU into disrepute whilst at the same time undermining the legitimacy of both the institution and the wider EU.

4.  The CJEU upholds the Union's founding principles such as the rule of law and respect for human rights, values common to all the Member States.[6] For all courts enjoined with the critical function of upholding the rule of law certain prerequisites apply, adherence to which is, in the case of the CJEU, further complicated by the multi-national nature of the EU. All courts ought to deal with matters before them in a timely manner, with consistency, and their decisions ought to be accessible to those subject to its jurisdiction. In an EU of 27 Member States covering 500 million citizens, speaking 23 official languages, in simply fulfilling its role the CJEU confronts unique difficulties. In being drawn from each individual Member State, its judges come from 27 Member States, each with its own legal system (or systems) and history, and together they adjudicate and build a body of law applicable in those 27 states. All this must be achieved in a way that is accessible to the Union's citizens and regarded as legitimate.

5.  2010 marked a decade since the Due Report looked at the future of the EU court structure (see Chapter 2), five years since the largest round of enlargement in the EU's history which brought with it the largest expansion in the EU's judiciary and, potentially, its workload, and also the first anniversary of the institutional structure introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. Sufficient time has passed since all these events occurred to permit an assessment of the impact of the last 10 years on the Court's workload.

6.  The Committee's concern for the ability of the CJEU in future to fulfil its central role is motivated on the one hand by worrying statistics in the CJEU's own Annual Report, for example an average duration of 33.1 months for some cases in the General Court, and on the other by the potential impact of the Lisbon Treaty on the CJEU's workload.[7] Against this background the Justice and Institutions Sub-Committee (whose members are listed in Appendix 1) published a call for evidence in July 2010 (see Appendix 2). The Call for Evidence made it clear that the inquiry would not address the substance of the Court's judgments.

7.  The Committee took evidence from those listed in Appendix 3. Three members of the Committee visited the CJEU in Luxembourg (a note summarising the evidence taken on the visit is in Appendix 4). We are grateful to all the witnesses. The Committee would like to take this opportunity to thank all the members of the Court of Justice of the European Union and their staff for making us so welcome when we visited the Court in Luxembourg.

8.  We recommend this Report to the House for debate.

1   Article 13, Treaty on the European Union (TEU). Back

2   Article 19(1) TEU. Back

3   The other institutions are: the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the Court of Auditors. Back

4   Article 13 TEU. Back

5   Q 125. Back

6   Article 2 TEU. Back

7   See this Committee's previous Reports: An EU Competition Court (15th Report of Session 2006-07, HL 75) and The Treaty of Lisbon: an impact assessment (10th Report of Session 2007-08, HL 62). Back

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