On 23 June 2015, the Council backed a proposal to reform the General Court, aimed at enabling it to face an increasing workload and ensuring that legal redress in the EU is guaranteed within a reasonable time.
The General Court is one of three courts of the European Court of Justice, the other two being the Court of Justice itself and the Civil Service Tribunal. The General Court is the court of first and last resort for the majority of decisions taken by the Commission and other EU organs, in all areas where the European Union holds competences.
Accelerated increase of caseload
According to the latest figures, the number of new cases arriving per year before the General Court increased from fewer than 600 prior to 2010 to 912 in 2014, resulting in an unprecedented 1393 pending cases at the end of March 2015. This rapid pace of increase in the General Court's caseload is likely to continue. For example, following the completion of the Banking Union, a new number of new cases related to the banking sector are now reaching the General Court. The strengthening of the General Court will enable the European Union to meet these new challenges.
The large and increasing number of pending cases prevents the General Court from delivering judgements within a reasonable time. The average time to deliver judgments in the most economically sensitive cases is between four and five years, while the average length generally considered acceptable is around one year. Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights provides for the right to receive a judgement within a reasonable period of time.
The reform proposal backed by the Council provides for a progressive increase in the number of judges at the General Court and for the merging of the Civil Service Tribunal with the General Court. In 2015, the number of judges would increase by 12. In 2016, the seven posts of judges from the Civil Service Tribunal would be transferred to the General Court to which nine further judges would be attributed in 2019. In total, this means 21 additional judges at the end of the process. This increase in the number of judges will also allow the General Court to have chambers of five judges rather than three judges to address the cases which justify it.
Thanks to the efforts made by the Court, increasing the number of judges by 21 and merging the Civil Service Tribunal with the General Court would cost €13.5 million per year. These costs compare favourably with the €26.8 million claimed in several actions for damages due to the delay in judgement.
The Council will forward its first-reading position to the European Parliament for a second reading.