Thursday

30th Jun 2022

EU courts still issuing verdicts despite pandemic

  • An empty lobby at the EU courts in Luxembourg where 2,300 people normally work (Photo: Cédric Puisney)

A lone judge will read out 16 verdicts in an almost empty chamber in the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg at 9.30AM on Thursday (26 March).

One senior jurist, called an advocate general, will also read out non-binding legal opinions on other cases.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Lone judges to read out verdicts in empty rooms for now (Photo: curia.europa.eu)

A second judge will read out 12 more verdicts at 11AM in another empty room at the EU General Court, a lower tribunal.

And they will repeat the ritual every Thursday going forward until the virus alert ends.

The court buildings, which normally host 2,300 staff, were emptied last week due to the pandemic and just 100 or so "absolutely necessary" personnel now go in each day.

The courts were sealed to visitors, suspending all hearings and the lawyers and plaintiffs from all over Europe they bring with them.

And EU judges and their aides now conducted their deliberations from remote locations using an internal system.

"We're grouping the judgments to be read out on one day a week for practical reasons. So, we'll deliver several rulings this way every Thursday," the courts' press office told EUobserver.

"The deliberations of the court remain secret. That precludes [us] from telling you whether it's by videoconference or some secure online platform," it said.

The courts also prioritised "urgent" cases and relaxed deadlines for judicial acts, such as filing appeals, in non-urgent cases in other emergency measures.

And the net total of verdicts, which used to be read out on separate weekdays, was still similar to normal times, the courts said.

That was the state of rule of law at the highest level in the EU one month after the coronavirus arrived in Europe.

"That would be completely false," the courts said when EUobserver asked if the near-empty buildings meant a legal vacuum at the top.

Six staff sick

Six staff had fallen sick with the viral condition Covid-19, but none of them had severe symptoms, the courts noted.

They were among the 1,333 people who had tested positive for coronavirus in Luxembourg by Thursday morning.

The Grand Duchy, a wealthy micro-state of 614,000 people, has one of the highest infection rates per capita in the world and has gone into partial lockdown.

The EU court measures mirrored reactions by other tribunals in Europe.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, another country with a high level of infection, has closed buildings, suspended hearings, and switched to teleworking.

National courts in France were doing "essential" litigation only, such as child protection orders or hearings of suspects in detention.

Courts in Italy - the worst-hit EU member - suspended all hearings.

Tribunals in the Czech Republic, Greece, and the Netherlands were taking similar steps.

And courts in the UK have suspended all jury trials "for a short time".

"No jury trials or other physical hearings can take place unless it is safe for them to do so," Lord Burnett of Maldon, Britain's chief justice, said on Monday.

"All other hearings in the crown court that can lawfully take place remotely should do so," he said.

Forgotten risk

With national courts restricting work to priority cases, the pandemic has put in doubt judicial cooperation on extraditions using European arrest warrants.

It also augured delays for the almost 500,000 asylum applicants who were awaiting decisions in EU states as of January, according to figures from the European Asylum Support Office, an EU agency in Valletta.

But for Fair Trials, a London-based human rights NGO, those most at risk were also those most neglected by society - Europeans who were suspects or convicts already in custody.

They were at risk of injustice if novel working methods, such as videoconferences with their defence lawyers, violated their rights, such as the right to privacy, Fair Trials director Jago Russell told EUobserver.

And they were at risk of getting sick due to being trapped in crowded spaces.

"Prisoners are often forgotten by society and there's a risk that they'll be forgotten now when they're at their most vulnerable due to risk of infection," Russell said.

Is Russia lying to WHO on virus data?

Russia has defended its credibility on coronavirus data, after Belarus said its neighbouring country was "ablaze" with infections - and the EU accused Moscow of other "lies".

Belgium, France, UK in EU court surveillance blow

Although non-binding, a critical opinion from the EU's top court could mean laws in Belgium, France and the UK allowing for the indiscriminate bulk collection of people's data may have to be eventually amended to respect EU privacy rules.

Interview

How Europe coped with pandemic 100 years ago

The 1918 flu pandemic "was just another thing to put up with" for people numbed by World War One - but there were also parallels with today, a British academic says.

Opinion

How industry watered-down new EU supply chain rules

The Commission fell hook, line, and sinker for the arguments of big business on the corporate due diligence directive — conflating rules and regulations with so-called 'red tape' and rebranding regulations as 'burdens' on business which should be scrapped.

Podcast

Against white feminism: European edition

Author Rafia Zakaria turned the feminist world upside down with her bestselling book Against White Feminism. She talks with the Brussels-based journalist Shada Islam about the prevalence of white feminist thinking in Europe — particularly France.

News in Brief

  1. Russia threatens Norway over goods transit
  2. Russia urges Nato not to build bases in Sweden, Finland
  3. New president for European Committee of the Regions
  4. Gas flows from Spain to Morocco, after Western Sahara row
  5. BioNTech, Pfizer test 'universal' coronavirus vaccine
  6. UK sanctions second-richest Russian businessman
  7. Hungary permits emergency supervision of energy firms
  8. Bulgaria expels 70 alleged Russian spies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  3. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  5. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBHow price increases affect construction workers

Latest News

  1. If Russia collapses — which states will break away?
  2. EU Parliament interpreters stage strike
  3. EU's post-Covid billions flowing into black hole
  4. Nato expands and reinforces on Russian flank
  5. EU Commission says it cannot find messages with Pfizer CEO
  6. EU ministers sign off on climate laws amid German infighting
  7. EU presidency still looking for asylum relocation pledges
  8. Finland and Sweden to join Nato, as Erdoğan drops veto

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us