Q&A on the reform of the General Court - EU monitor

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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Q&A on the reform of the General Court

Source: Council of the European Union (Council) i, published on Tuesday, June 23 2015.

Why is a reform of the General Court needed?

Because the General Court is faced with a rapidly increasing caseload which prevents it from delivering judgements within a reasonable time. The number of new cases per year increased from less than 600 until 2010 to 912 in 2014, resulting in an unprecedented number of pending cases of 1393 at the end of March 2015.

What is the average time for the General Court to deliver a judgement?

It takes the General Court currently on average two years to issue a judgement. This is twice as long as what is generally considered permissible. It is worth to note that article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights provides for the right to receive a judgement within a reasonable period of time.

On the most economically sensitive cases (state aid and competition cases), the average time to deliver judgments is even between four and five years. This causes many difficulties to litigants, especially businesses, since they must keep aside important financial resources pending a judgement. This has obvious consequences for growth and jobs. As an example, fines amounting to more than €7 billion are currently challenged in cases pending before the General Court.

What is the precise content of the reform the General Court?

The reform consists in an increase of the number of judges by 21 in two steps and the merger of the Civil Service Tribunal with the General Court. In 2015 the number of judges would be increased by 12. In 2016, the seven posts of judges from the Civil Service Tribunal would be transferred to the General Court by a merger of the two courts. In 2019, the number of judges would increase by nine, bringing the total number of judges to 56.

Why to increase the number of judges? Would it not be sufficient to increase the number of legal secretaries?

The number of legal secretaries has already been increased in 2014 by nine which helped to improve the productivity of the General Court. However, this measure has reached its limits. In fact only judges have the right to participate in the deliberations and to deliver judgements. To increase the number of judges would also allow the General Court to dedicate to the cases the attention they deserve by providing for the possibility to deliberate in chambers of five judges rather than of three.

Is the increase of the number of judges not excessively costly?

The costs of the reform would be rather limited and in fact constitute good value for money. Thanks to the efforts made by the Court, the planned increase in the number of judges and the merger of the Civil Service Tribunal with the General Court would cost €13.5 million per year. This is only €2.3 million or 21% more compared to an increase of the number of judges by 12, which has already been agreed by the European Parliament. It is worth noting that the caseload increased by 43% from 2010 to 2014. The costs of the planned reform also compare favourably with the €26.8 million claimed in several actions for damages due to the delay in judgement.

Could the problem of the increasing caseload not be addressed by creating specialized courts?

The creation of specialized courts would not constitute a viable alternative, for a number of reasons. Specialized courts are not flexible: if the number of cases increases substantially, the court is likely to be unable to cope with them. Specialized courts would also increase the risk of inconsistency of EU law since there would always be three courts that might be seized of similar issues: one by way of the preliminary ruling procedure (Court of Justice), one by way of an appeal (General Court) and one by way of direct actions (the specialised court). Specialized courts also add complexity. Finally, specialized courts would be unnecessarily costly : each requires a President and his or her Cabinet, a registry and other fixed costs.

Isn't the increase of the number of judges by 21 just the consequence of member states' inability to agree on where additional 12 judges would come from?

It is right that in early 2011 the President of the European Court of Justice made a proposal to increase the number of judges by 12. It is also right that talks among member states on the appointment method were inconclusive. However, since this first proposal has been made the caseload increased significantly. Between 2010 and 2014, when the second proposal was made, the number of new cases increased by 43%. Due to this recent accelerated increase in the caseload an increase of the number of judges by 12 would in any case have requested a new increase of the number of judges by 2020 at the latest. The reform of the General Court as backed by the Council offers a sustainable solution for current and foreseeable future challenges.