3.5 The Court of Justice, Court of First Instance and Court of Auditors
(I) The Court of Justice and Court of First Instance
The main features of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) or the Court of Justice are:
- As the EU's judicial institution, the Court of Justice acts as a safeguard of EU law and has jurisdiction over cases concerning member states, EU institutions, undertakings or individuals. The ECJ ensures the uniform interpretation and application of EU law throughout the EU.
- It is the final arbiter in disputes arising from the Community Treaties or the legislation based upon them. It is responsible for judicial interpretation and enforcement of EU (Community) law.
- The ECJ has supremacy in all the member states over all other courts and has, therefore, been the highest law court in the UK since 1973 when the UK joined the European Communities. The ECJ's supremacy allows it to establish primacy for EU laws.
- The ECJ operates on the basis of 3 fundamental principles:
- Direct effect: EU (Community) law creates rights for citizens that national courts must recognise and enforce.
- Direct applicability: regulations are directly applicable in member states, without the need for national legislatures to pass implementing legislation.
- The primacy of EU (Community) law over national law: domestic legal provisions cannot override EU (Community) law.
- The Court has one judge from each member state, appointed for renewable 6-year terms.
- The Court has a President, who is selected from among the judges for a 3-year term.
- There are also 8 Advocates-General who deliver opinions on cases brought before the Court of Justice. One advocate-general is picked from the following "large" countries: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. The remaining 3 are from the smaller countries, by rotation.
- The Court's main areas of jurisdiction are as follows:
- Failure on the part of a member state to fulfil its treaty obligation: such an action may be brought by the European Commission or by a member state.
- Judicial review: the Court is empowered to "review the legality" of legal instruments adopted by the Council of Ministers or the Commission, and certain acts of the European Parliament.
- "Failure to act": by the Commission, the Council or the European Parliament, thus infringing a requirement laid down in the treaties.
- Preliminary rulings: these may be requested by national courts in the event of a question of treaty interpretation (for example) being raised before a national court.
- The Court of First Instance was set up in 1989 and is an independent Court, though attached to the ECJ. Since 1994, irrespective of subject matter, it has dealt with all actions brought by individuals and undertakings against measures of the EU institutions which are addressed to them or which are of direct and individual concern. It has one judge from each member state (including the President), appointed for 6-year terms.
Some key dates are:
- The Court of Justice was set up under the Treaty of Paris (1951) for the ECSC.
- Its powers were extended to the EEC and Euratom by the Treaties of Rome (1957), which set these two Communities up.
- The 1986 SEA authorised the Council of Ministers to attach to the ECJ, "a court with jurisdiction to hear and determine at first instance...certain classes of action or proceeding brought by natural or legal persons". The Court of First Instance (CFI) became operational in 1989.
- The Maastricht Treaty (1992), which created the EU, extended the ECJ's powers.
- The Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) also extended the ECJ's powers, with regards to Justice and Home Affairs (Maastricht's third pillar), by including issues such as visas, asylum, illegal immigration and judicial co-operation in civil matters in the 1st pillar. (The 3rd pillar was henceforth limited to police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.)
- There were minor changes under the Treaty of Nice (2001).
(II) The Court of Auditors
The main features of the Court of Auditors are:
- The Court checks that all Community revenue has been received, all expenditure has been incurred lawfully, and checks whether financial management has been sound. It deals with "external" financial auditing of the institutions of the EU (which have their own "internal" controls). The Court's job is of great importance as fraud is allegedly widespread in the EU.
- The Court has one from each member state, designated by the Council for a 6-year renewable term of office. It has a President, who is selected from among the judges for a 3-year term.
- The Court is organised in audit groups comprising a number of specialised divisions which cover the different areas of the budget. The CEAD (Coordination, Evaluation, Assurance and Development) audit group is responsible for the coordination of the Statement of Assurance, quality assurance and the development of the Court's audit methodology.
- The title "Court" is something of a misnomer as it has no power to pass sentence, insist on repayment of misappropriated funds or impose any kind of sanction.
- The Court has persistently drawn attention to the Council's failure adequately to consider the Court's reports.
Some key dates are:
- The "Treaty amending certain Financial Provisions of the Treaties establishing the European Communities (and the Merger Treaty)" (1975) set up the Court of Auditors.
- The Court of Auditors has been responsible for the external financial controls of the EU institutions since it was founded in 1977. It replaced the Audit Board, which was set up under a Council decision of 1959.
- It was upgraded in the Maastricht Treaty.
- In 2007, the Court of Auditors failed to give the "all-clear" to the EU's finances for the 13th consecutive year.
RL, April 2008