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The role of the European court of justice

Ensuring EU law is interpreted and applied the same in every EU country; ensuring countries and EU institutions abide by EU law.


European court of justice members

Court of Justice: 1 judge from each EU country, plus 11 advocates general
General Court: 47 judges. In 2019 this will be increased to 56 (2 judges from each EU country).


The European court of justice was established in



Where is the European court of justice located



The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) interprets EU law to make sure it is

applied in the same way in all EU countries, and settles legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions.


The European court of justice can also, in certain circumstances, be used by

individuals, companies or organisations to take action against an EU institution, if they feel it has somehow infringed their rights.


What does the CJEU do?

The CJEU gives rulings on cases brought before it.


What are the most common cases brought before the European court of justice?

Interpreting new laws
Enforcing the law
Annulling EU legal acts
Ensuring the EU takes action
Sanctioning EU institutions


Interpreting new law

national courts of EU countries are required to ensure EU law is properly applied, but courts in different countries might interpret it differently. If a national court is in doubt about the interpretation or validity of an EU law, it can ask the Court for clarification. The same mechanism can be used to determine whether a national law or practice is compatible with EU law.


Enforcing the law

this type of case is taken against a national government for failing to comply with EU law. Can be started by the European Commission or another EU country. If the country is found to be at fault, it must put things right at once, or risk a second case being brought, which may result in a fine.


Annulling EU legal acts

if an EU act is believed to violate EU treaties or fundamental rights, the Court can be asked to annul it – by an EU government, the Council of the EU, the European Commission or (in some cases) the European Parliament.
Private individuals can also ask the Court to annul an EU act that directly concerns them.


Ensuring the EU takes action

the Parliament, Council and Commission must make certain decisions under certain circumstances. If they don't, EU governments, other EU institutions or (under certain conditions) individuals or companies can complain to the Court.


Sanctioning EU institutions

any person or company who has had their interests harmed as a result of the action or inaction of the EU or its staff can take action against them through the Court.


The European court of justice is divided into

Two courts
1. Court of Justice
2. General Court


Court of justice

deals with requests for preliminary rulings from national courts, certain actions for annulment and appeals.


General court

rules on actions for annulment brought by individuals, companies and, in some cases, EU governments. In practice, this means that this court deals mainly with competition law, State aid, trade, agriculture, trade marks.


Each judge and advocate general is appointed for a

renewable 6-year term, jointly by national governments. In each Court, the judges select a President who serves a renewable term of 3 years.


In the Court of Justice, each case is assigned

1 judge (the "judge-rapporteur") and 1 advocate general.


Cases brought to the European court of justice are processed in

2 stages
1. Written stage
2. Oral stage - a public hearing


Written stage

The parties give written statements to the Court - and observations can also be submitted by national authorities, EU institutions and sometimes private individuals.
All of this is summarised by the judge-rapporteur and then discussed at the Court's general meeting, which decides:
How many judges will deal with the case: 3, 5 or 15 judges.
Whether a hearing (oral stage) needs to be held and whether an official opinion from the advocate general is necessary.


Oral stage - public hearing

Lawyers from both sides can put their case to the judges and advocate general, who can question them.
If the Court has decided an Opinion of the advocate general is necessary, this is given some weeks after the hearing.
The judges then deliberate and give their verdict.


General court procedure is similar except

that most cases are heard by 3 judges and there are no advocates general.