Court of Justice defends doubling number of judges
By Peter Teffer
The two top judges of the Court of Justice of the European Union on Tuesday (5 April) defended the decision by member states to double the number of judges in the General Court from 28 to 56, despite criticism that the move may be disproportionate to the workload.
Originally, the Luxembourg-based institution had suggested that the General Court should be enlarged by 12 members. But the EU's national governments were not able to agree on how to divide 12 jobs among 28 countries.
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The General Court is one of the three courts that make up the Court of Justice of the European Union and deals mostly with cases from individuals and companies. The second, called simply the Court of Justice, interprets EU law when requested by national judges. The Civil Service Tribunal is specialised in disputes between EU staff and their employer.
Judge Marc Jaeger had been one of the strongest voices against the doubling of the number of judges. And while Jaeger acknowledged he had initially said “switching from 12 to 28 might not be the right solution”, on Tuesday he spoke “as president of the General Court, so my opinion is the official one”.
“The decision has been taken, so I am accepting it,” said Jaeger, president of the General Court.
One of the court's judges, Belgium's Franklin Dehousse, strongly criticised the decision, taken in December 2015, in a piece he wrote for a think-tank. Dehousse called the doubling “manifestly excessive” and said it amounted to “useless spending” - noting the total cost will be €22.9 million a year.
Jaeger spoke at a briefing with journalists in the court in Luxembourg, together with president of the Court of Justice Koen Lenaerts.
Both said that the strengthening of the court would help speed up the processing of cases.
Lenaerts noted that in 2015 the average duration for a competition case was 47 months.
“And that is average, which means that some of these cases take six years or even more. That is justice delayed, justice denied,” said Lenaerts.
He explained that the reform would be done in three stages. This year, the General Court would be expanded with 12 new judges. Also this year, the Civil Service Tribunal would be dissolved, and its seven judges transferred to the General Court.
Finally, in 2019, another nine judges would be appointed.
“The first stage, 12, is obvious. The second stage, seven, is also obvious,” noted Lenaerts, pointing to the relatively low number of cases brought before the Civil Service Tribunal.
“There were years when there was very little work – which is a good thing, there were few civil servants complaining,” said Lenaerts.
The past five years, the number of cases brought before the tribunal annually was between 157 and 178.
“These judges are high-level colleagues, but they could not help out the General Court, which was overburdened,” he said.
“So the only difference in the end is that we have for 2019 these nine last judges, and that is indeed, a sort of view to the future.”
More work as EU deepens
He added that new policy themes the European Union has embraced, like the Banking Union, will lead to litigation in the General Court.
“Any new field the European Union is entering, triggers more work,” he said.
An additional justification Lenaerts gave, was that in “95 percent” of the cases, rulings were reached with three judges.
“That is too few. The general court will again have the possibility… to decide more cases, and especially more difficult cases, with five judges, or even with the grand chamber, that also exists in the General Court, but is rarely used because of the pressure of numbers,” he said.
In 2015, the number of new cases brought before the General Court was 831, down from 912 in 2014. The number of pending cases was 1,267, down from 1,423.
But Jaeger said: “Our workload is constantly increasing.”
He explained the increase by taking “not the annual figure, but the median of the three years”.
“Even if in some years you might have a reduction, but if you take a median of three years from the beginning on, it is increasing,” said Jaeger.