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European Union - Main EU Institutions

The European Court of Justice

Court of Justice 15 judges and 9 advocates general

Court of First Instance 15 judges Members of both Courts are appointed by the Member States for renewable terms of six years

The Union, like the European Communities on which it is founded, is governed by the rule of law. Its very existence is conditional on recognition by the Member States, by the institutions and by individuals of the binding nature of its rules.

The role of the Court is to provide the judicial safeguards necessary to ensure that the law is observed in the interpretation and application of the Treaties and, generally in all of the activities of the Community.

The success of Community law in embedding itself so thoroughly in the legal life of the Member States is due to its having been perceived, interpreted and applied by the citizens, the administrative authorities and the courts of all of the Member States as a uniform body of rules upon which individuals may rely in their national courts. The decisions of the Court have made Community law a reality for the citizens of Europe and often have important constitutional and economic consequences.

The Court may be called upon to decide cases brought by the Member States, by the Community institutions and by individuals and companies. It ensures uniform interpretation of Community law throughout the Community by close co-operation with national courts and tribunals through the preliminary ruling procedure.

The Court of Justice of the European Communities worked alone until 1 September 1989 when the Council attached to it a Court of First Instance in order to improve the judicial protection of individual interests and to enable the Court of Justice to concentrate its activities on its fundamental task of ensuring uniform interpretation of Community law.

The Court of First Instance now has jurisdiction to deal with all actions brought by individuals and companies against decisions of the Community institutions and agencies. Its judgments may be subject to an appeal brought before the Court of Justice but only on a point of law.

The Court of Justice is composed of 15 judges and 9 advocates general appointed by common accord of the Member States for a renewable term of six years. Their independence must be beyond doubt and they must be qualified for the highest judicial offices in their respective countries or be jurists of recognised competence. The judges elect the President of the Court from among their number for a term of three years. The President directs the work of the Court and presides at hearings and deliberations. The Court is assisted by the advocates general whose task is to deliver independent and impartial opinions on cases brought before it.

The Court of First Instance has 15 judges appointed by the Member States for the same renewable term of office. This Court also elects its President, however there are no advocates general.

The Court of Justice may sit in plenary session or in chambers of three or five judges. It sits in plenary session when it so decides or if a Member State or an EU institution which is a party to the proceedings so requests. For its part the Court of First Instance sits in chambers of three or five judges. It may sit in plenary session for certain important cases.

Broadly speaking two types of cases may be brought before the Court of Justice:

In a direct action the language of the case is chosen by the applicant whereas in preliminary rulings the Court of Justice uses the same language as the national court which referred the case. Thus any of the Community's languages may be used. Written exchanges are an important part of the Court's procedures, both for pleadings and for the submission of observations. After the end of the written phase, cases are argued orally in open court.

Following the hearing, the advocate general delivers an impartial and independent opinion in open court on the arguments submitted and on the interpretation of the relevant rules before recommending a decision for adoption by the Court. Although the advocate general's opinion is not binding upon the Court, his advice is extremely persuasive and is most often followed by the Court.

The judges consider the case in closed deliberation and then deliver judgment in open court. The text of the judgment includes the reasoning upon which it is based and copies of the text are available in all 11 official languages. Since 1954 over 9 000 cases have been brought before the Court of Justice which has delivered some 4 000 judgments.

Taken from www.europa.eu.int

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