Crisis looming at European Court of Justice

International

More advocates-general and judges are needed at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) if “crisis” is to be averted, a House of Lords’ report has found.

Both the ECJ and the General Court are burdened with a heavy workload as a result of the rise in EU membership to 27 states and the expansion of the ECJ’s jurisdiction since the Lisbon Treaty, according to a report by the Lords’ EU sub-committee on justice and institutions.

Of the two, the General Court is faring worst. It is “struggling to manage its existing and ever increasing workload, and [has been] twice criticized by the Court of Justice for taking too long to deliver justice, most recently in 2009”.

The sub-committee said that structural solutions needed to be found urgently, and recommended the appointment of more judges and advocates-general to speed up the handling of cases as the most flexible long-term solution, despite possible cost implications.

There are currently 27 judges in the Court of Justice, one for every member state, plus eight advocates-general. The General Court, which also has 27 judges, hears more fact-based and evidence-based cases. One tenth of its cases involve competition law, including challenges to mergers and allegations of anti-competitive behavior, sometimes with files running to 20,000 pages.

The committee heard that the Court of Justice has usually received about 250 references from national courts but last year this rose to 300 in the first nine months, which suggests an annual figure of 400. It rejected opinions that the working court language of French causes delay, since any increase in the number of languages would add another level of translations and increase delay.

Lord Bowness, chairman of the sub-committee, said: “We started our inquiry because we were concerned by the Courts’ workload statistics. Our concerns were not misplaced.

“The General Court has an excessive case-load leading to serious delays for litigants...we believe that the time to leave the Court to work as it is has passed. Solutions need to be addressed, and we strongly feel that the only long term way of improving the workload issues is to increase the judiciary.”
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