On 3 December 2015, the Council adopted a regulation reforming the General Court. The aim of the reform is to enable the General Court to face an increasing workload and to ensure that legal redress in the EU is guaranteed within a reasonable time.
"The reform of the General Court reinforces an institution that has provided significant impetus to European integration", said Félix Braz, Minister for Justice of Luxembourg and President of the Council.
The General Court is one of three courts of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the other two being the Court of Justice itself and the Civil Service Tribunal. The General Court is the court of first instance for the majority of decisions taken by the Commission and other EU institutions and bodies, in all areas where the European Union holds competences.
Strengthening the General Court
The reform 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. At the entry into force of the reform, expected at the end of December 2015, the number of judges will increase by 12. In September 2016, the seven posts of judges at the Civil Service Tribunal will be transferred to the General Court, to which nine further judges will be attributed in September 2019. In total, this means 21 additional judges at the end of the process.
This increase in the number of judges will allow the General Court to deliver judgments within a reasonable time, in conformity with Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It will also allow the General Court to decide more cases in chambers of five judges or in grand chamber which will enable a more in-depth deliberation on important cases.
The future partial replacements of judges will be organised in such a way that member states nominate candidates for two posts. The aim is to ensure to the greatest possible extent gender equality in the composition of the General Court. By 2021 the Court of Justice will have to report on the functioning of the General Court and make legislative proposals to amend its statute where appropriate.
Accelerated increase of caseload
The reform responds to an accelerated increase of the General Court's 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 1270 pending cases at the end of November 2015. This rapid pace of increase in the General Court's caseload is likely to continue, following recent developments in EU competences likely to give rise to litigation, for example in the banking sector. The General Court will also receive around 200 pending cases on staff matters.
Increasing duration of proceedings
The constantly increasing case-load prevents the General Court from delivering judgments within a reasonable time. The average time to deliver judgments in the most economically sensitive cases is between four and five years, which is far beyond the average length generally considered acceptable. Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights provides for the right to receive a judgement within a reasonable period of time.
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 judgment and will allow the EU's first instance jurisdiction to fulfil its functions within the time limits and the quality standards which European citizens and companies are entitled to expect in a Union based on the rule of law.
The regulation will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union at the end of December and enter into force the day after.
The process for the appointment of the first 12 additional judges is under way. The candidates proposed by the member states concerned (Czech Republic, Sweden, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Cyprus, Lithuania, Greece, Latvia, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Malta) will be screened and interviewed by the panel set up by article 255 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. The panel's task is to give an opinion on the candidates' suitability to perform the duties of judge of the General Court before the representatives of member states' governments decide on the appointments.