The main institutions of the EU are constantly striving to make life better and fairer for all European citizens, but sometimes regulations and directives introduced to improve living standards donít work the way theyíre supposed to.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) - which prior to Lisbon was called the European Court of Justice (ECJ) - is the official legal body that sorts out disputes over the application of EU law. However, itís only used as a last resort as thereís lots of other mechanisms to rectify problems with EU legislation.
Many NGOs play an unofficial watchdog role on European legislation that covers their field of interest and often bring suspected breaches to the attention of the European Commission or the relevant authorities in their own member state.
When it comes to EU legislation the Court outranks even national supreme courts. One judge from each EU member state sits on the Court for a six year term.
Cases are assessed by a special lawyer called an Advocate-General who prepares a report and a decision based on the evidence. The judges arenít obliged to follow this decision, but they often do.
All Court decisions are made available online at the ĎAccess to European Union Lawí service, EUR-Lex.
Since the Treaty of Lisbon came into force in 2009 the Court officially includes the Court of Justice, the General Court and the European Union Civil Service Tribunal.
The General Court, which also has judges from each of the 27 member states, is responsible for ruling on certain categories of cases including competition law, commercial policy or social policy. Decisions of the General Court can be appealed to the Court.
The European Union Civil Service Tribunal is a panel of judges that deals with disputes between the European institutions and other EU bodies and their employees.]
The Court is not a replacement for the Irish judicial system but Ireland, like all EU member states, is obliged to implement European law into through its own legal mechanisms.
That means that whenever an EU regulation or directive is passed it becomes part of Irish law, so suspected breaches are often dealt with by Irish courts in the first instance.
WHERE TO START:
- If you suspect EU legislation has been breached or is not being implemented properly contact the Irish authority responsible first. They may simple be unaware of the law
- Make sure your problem is within the scope of European law. If youíre in doubt, check with Europe Direct
- Difficulties with public administration bodies in member states not correctly applying European law can sometimes be sorted out through the SOLVIT network
- Contact the Irish European Commission Representation in Dublin. Its Citizens Signpost Legal Adviser is available to provide you with information and advice on your rights in the European Union. The Adviser can also deliver presentations and seminars to interested groups on EU legal entitlements
- The most effective means of redress if fundamental European rights have been breached is usually at national level. If you feel Government departments, local authorities, health boards or other public bodies are not applying any aspect of European law correctly contact the Irish Office of the Ombudsman
- Check out other Irish non-judicial bodies that may be able to deal with your difficulty
- Cases regarding the failure to apply European law should be brought before Irish courts in the first instance if all other efforts at national level have failed
- Access to the Court is limited but national courts can refer questions on EU legislation to the Court for a ruling. The Court ruling is then binding on the national court
- Member states suspected of breaching EU rules can be brought before the Court by the European Commission. However, itís only done as a last resort and the Commission will always try to address problems diplomatically
There are two ways to have a case brought before the Court or its General Court.
The easiest way is indirectly through the national courts. A national court faced with a legal problem which concerns EU rules can, and in some cases must refer it to the Court who will return with a preliminary ruling.
To a limited extent, it is possible to bring a case directly before the General Court to review a decision made by one of the EUís institutions.
However, this is not a general right which anyone can freely avail of. In order to take an appeal against a decision, the decision must concern the plaintiff directly and individually.
Cases which have been lost in the last instance in the Irish court system cannot be appealed to the Court. The Court is not a court of appeal for decisions made by national courts.
WHO TO CONTACT:
- Europe Direct can help you determine if your issue is covered by EU legislation
- Contact the European Commission Representation in Dublin. Officials can offer advice on your legal rights.