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European Court of Justice

The Court of Justice of the European Union (the CJEU) is the highest court in the EU system.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (the CJEU) has the function of ensuring that the law is observed in the interpretation and application of the European Treaties and that the laws adopted by the European Union are enforced, understood and uniformly applied in all Member States and by the institutions of the European Union.

The CJEU is comprised of three levels:

(i)                 the Court of Justice;

(ii)                the General Court and

(iii)               specialised courts, which may be attached to the General Court to determine cases brought in specific areas.

The Chief State Solicitor is the Agent for the Government before the CJEU.

Court of Justice

The Court of Justice is composed of 28 judges (one from each Member State) and 8 Advocates General. The Court may sit as a full Court of 28 judges, as a Grand Chamber of 13 judges, or in chambers of 5 and 3 judges. The Court is headed by a President who is elected by the judges from among their number. Advocates General assist the Court in presenting opinions on a case assigned to them which, although not binding on the Court, are often followed.

The Court of Justice is the highest court in the EU system and it has a right to hear appeals from certain decisions of the General Court. Cases handled by the Court of Justice are coded with the letter ‘C’, e.g. Case C-1/12.

General Court

The Chief State’s Solicitors Office is the Agent for the Government before the Court of Justice of the European Union General Court.

The 28 judges of the General Court may sit as a full Court of 28 judges, as a Grand Chamber of 13 judges, in chambers of 5 or 3 judges, or in certain cases may sit as a single judge. Cases handled by the General Court are coded with the letter ‘T’. e.g. Case T-1/12.

The General Court may hear, as a first instance court,

  • actions for annulment of EU acts (Art. 263 TFEU)
  • actions for failure to act against an EU institution (Art. 265 TFEU)
  • actions for damages against the EU (Arts. 268 and 340 TFEU).

A decision of the General Court in these type of cases may be appealed to the Court of Justice on a point of law.

The General Court also acts as an appeal court for decisions given by the specialised courts (Art. 256 TFEU). The decisions of the General Court in these types of cases may exceptionally be subject to review by the Court of Justice where there is a serious risk of the unity or consistency of EU law being affected.

Finally, under Art. 267 TFEU national courts of the Member States may, in the context of domestic litigation, refer a legal question to the Court of Justice for example on the interpretation or clarification of an EU law, or on the validity of such a law. This procedure is called a “preliminary reference”. The Treaties provide that specific areas may be identified in relation to which the General Court may hear preliminary references from national courts, with a right of review by the Court of Justice, however no such areas have yet been identified.

Specialised Courts

Art. 257 TFEU provides that the European Parliament and the Council may establish specialised courts attached to the General Court to hear at first instance certain classes of cases in specific areas. Decisions of specialised courts may be appealed to the General Court. A specialised court, known as the Civil Service Tribunal, has been established to hear cases involving disputes within the civil service of the EU (Art. 270 TFEU). The specialised court consists of 7 judges and usually sits as a panel of three judges, although it may also sit as a full panel, a panel of 5 judges, or as a single judge. Cases handled by the Civil Service Tribunal are coded with the letter ‘F’. e.g. Case F-1/12.