European court of justice

The european court of justice consists of one judge from each member state.

The role of the Court of Justice is to 'ensure that in the interpretation and application of the Treaty the law is observed'.

The Court of Justice of the European Union is divided into 2 courts. The Court of Justice – which deals with requests for preliminary rulings from national courts, certain actions for annulment and appeals and The General Court  which rules on actions for annulment brought by individuals, companies and, in some cases, EU governments.

The court sits in Luxembourg. It is made up of one judge from each Member State, each judge is appointed for six years and the President of the Court is selected by the judges from one of the members.

For a full court eleven judges will sit. A chamber, which can consist of five or three members, can also sit.

The Court is aided by nine Advocates General.

In 1989 the ‘General Court’, initially known as the EU’s Court of First Instance, was set up  to help the Court of Justice cope with its increasing workload and the ‘EU Civil Service Tribunal’ ruled on disputes between the European Union and its staff. In 2015, because of the increase in litigation, (from 398 cases in 2000 to 912 cases in 2014) and the increase in the length of time taken to deal with cases in the General Court, the EU legislature decided to increase the number of Judges at the General Court to 56 and to transfer to it the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Tribunal.  On 1 September 2016 the Civil Service Tribunal was dissolved.

The Court's job is to ensure that the law is applied uniformly in all Member States and settles legal disputes between EU governments and EU institutions.

The court hears cases to decide that all Member States fulfil their obligations under the Treaties.  Actions are usually started by the European Commission as in  Tacographs: Commission of the European Communities v United Kingdom of Great Britain (1979).

The Court hears references from national courts for preliminary rulings on points of European Law. Rulings made by the European Court of Justice are binding on courts in all Member States so this is a very important function of the European Court of Justice to ensure that the law is uniform throughout the European Union.  Individuals, companies or organisations can also bring cases before the Court if they feel their rights have been infringed by an EU institution.

The Court rules on European law when cases are referred under Article 267.

The five most common types of cases are:

  • Requests for a preliminary ruling

  • Actions for failure to fulfil an obligation

  • Actions for annulment 

  • Actions for failure to act

  • Direct actions


The first case to be referred to the European Court of Justice by an English Court of Justice was Yvonne van Duyn v Home Office. (Workers ) (1974)


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