Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)
Composition and role of the Court of Justice of the EU
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is the judicial institution of the European Union. This means that it deals with disputes between parties as the courts do in Ireland. The CJEU ensures that European law is interpreted and applied in the same way in every member state.
It sits in Luxembourg and is composed of the General Court and the Court of Justice. The General Court has 54 judges and the Court of Justice has 27 judges, one from each member state. In addition to the 27 judges, there are 11 Advocates General who deliver reasoned opinions on cases to assist the Court of Justice in making its decisions.
The General Court deals with certain categories of cases at first instance. Decisions of the General Court can be appealed to the Court of Justice.
Judges and Advocates General of the CJEU must have the qualifications to be appointed to the highest national courts in their member states or they may be jurisconsults (academic lawyers). Once they are appointed, they may not hold any other office of an administrative or political nature and they may not engage in any occupation, paid or unpaid. The Judges and Advocates General are appointed by joint agreement of the governments of the member states. They have a renewable term of 6 years.
What does the Court of Justice do?
The CJEU upholds the Treaties and ensures that European law is interpreted and applied in the same way across the EU through various forms of legal action. These include:
To avoid differences of interpretation of EU law by national courts, the preliminary ruling procedure allows co-operation between national courts and the Court of Justice. If a case comes before a national court that involves an interpretation of an EU law and there is a doubt as to how it should be interpreted, the national court can refer the question to the Court of Justice to decide. The Court of Justice makes a decision as to how the law should be interpreted or applied and sends that decision to the national court. The national court must then apply that decision to the case before it.
Enforcing the law
The Commission or a member state may commence proceedings at the CJEU to force a member state to comply with EU law. If the CJEU decides that the member state in question is at fault, the member state must rectify the situation without delay.
Annulling EU law
A member state, the Commission, the Council of the European Union or the European Parliament may request the annulment or cancellation of an EU law. This may happen if an EU institution enacts a law that conflicts with the EU Treaties. If the CJEU agrees that the disputed law is contrary to the Treaties, it will declare the law null and void.
Private individuals or companies may also bring proceedings for annulment of an EU law if they can demonstrate that the disputed law affects them directly and individually. To bring proceedings for annulment, you should obtain legal advice and/or representation. You do not need to go through the national courts first in order to bring proceedings for annulment in the CJEU. If you lose the case at the CJEU, you may be liable to pay the costs of both sides. If you succeed, your costs will be paid by the EU and the law will be declared null and void throughout the EU.
Actions for damages
An individual or company who has suffered damage as a result of the action or inaction of the EU can apply to the CJEU for compensation.
Actions for failure to act
Individuals, companies, member states or EU institutions can complain to the CJEU if an EU institution has failed to make certain decisions.