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Court of Justice of the EU

Court of Justice of the European Central Union – Judiciary

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is the institution of the European Union (EU) that encompasses the whole judiciary. Seated in Luxembourg, Luxembourg, it has three sub-courts: the Court of Justice, the General Court and the Civil Service Tribunal.

The institution was originally established in 1952 as the Court of Justice of the European Coal and Steel Communities (as of 1958 the Court of Justice of the European Communities (CJEC)). With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009, the court changed to its current name and comprises the Court of Justice, the General Court (formerly the Court of First Instance) and the Civil Service Tribunal.
Its mission is to make sure that “the law is observed” “in the interpretation and application” of the Treaties. The Court reviews the legality of the acts of the institutions of the European Union; ensures that the Member States comply with obligations under the Treaties; and interprets European Union law at the request of the national courts and tribunals.

The Court constitutes the judicial authority of the European Union and, in cooperation with the courts and tribunals of the Member States, it ensures the uniform application and interpretation of European Union law.

The Court of Justice of the European Union consists of three courts:

  • The Court of Justice(created in 1952)
  • The General Court(created in 1988; formerly the Court of First Instance)
  • The Civil Service Tribunal(created in 2004)

Since their establishment, approximately 15,000 judgements have been delivered by the three courts.

  • ensure uniformity of interpretation of European law
  • has the power to decide legal disputes between EU member states, EU institutions, businesses and individuals
  • based in Luxembourg




The Court of Justice consists of 28 Judges who are assisted by nine Advocates-General. The Judges and Advocates-General are appointed by common accord of the governments of the member states and hold office for a renewable term of six years. The treaties require that they are chosen from legal experts whose independence is “beyond doubt” and who possess the qualifications required for appointment to the highest judicial offices in their respective countries or who are of recognised competence. 37% of judges had experience of judging appeals before they joined the ECJ. In practice, each member state nominates a judge whose nomination is then ratified by all the other member states.


The President of the Court of Justice is elected from and by the judges for a renewable term of three years. The president presides over hearings and deliberations, directing both judicial business and administration (for example, the time table of the Court and Grand Chamber). He also assigns cases to the chambers for examination and appoints judge as rapporteurs (reporting judges). The Council may also appoint assistant rapporteurs to assist the President in applications for interim measures and to assist rapporteurs in the performance of their duties.

# Term President State
1 1952–1958 Massimo Pilotti  Italy
2 1958–1964 Andreas Matthias Donner  Netherlands
3 1964–1967 Charles Léon Hammes  Luxembourg
4 1967–1976 Robert Lecourt  France
5 1976–1980 Hans Kutscher  Germany
6 1980–1984 Josse Mertens de Wilmars  Belgium
7 1984–1988 John Mackenzie-Stuart  United Kingdom
8 1988–1994 Ole Due  Denmark
9 1994–2003 Gil Carlos Rodriguez Iglesias  Spain
10 7 October 2003–incumbent
Term expires 6 October 2015
Vassilios Skouris  Greece
Source: “The Presidents of the Court of Justice”. CVCE. Retrieved 19 April 2013.



The post of vice-president was created by amendments to the Statute of the Court of Justice in 2012. The duty of the Vice-President is to assist the President in the performance of his duties and to take the President’s place when the latter is prevented from attending or when the office of president is vacant. In 2012, judge Koen Lenaerts of Belgium became the first judge to carry out the duties of the Vice-President of the Court of Justice. Like the President of the Court of Justice, the Vice-President is elected by the members of the Court for a term of three years.

# Term President State
1 9 October 2012–incumbent
Term expires 6 October 2015
Koen Lenaerts  Belgium

Advocates General

The judges are assisted by nine Advocates General who are responsible for presenting a legal opinion on the cases assigned to them. They can question the parties involved and then give their opinion on a legal solution to the case before the judges deliberate and deliver their judgment. The intention behind having Advocates General attached is to provide independent and impartial opinions concerning the Court’s cases. Unlike the Court’s judgments, the written opinions of the Advocates General are the works of a single author and are consequently generally more readable and deal with the legal issues more comprehensively than the Court, which is limited to the particular matters at hand. The opinions of the Advocates General are advisory and do not bind the Court, but they are nonetheless very influential and are followed in the majority of cases. As of 2003, Advocates General are only required to give an opinion if the Court considers the case raises a new point of law.

Six of the nine Advocates General are nominated as of right by the six largest member states of the European Union: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Poland. The other three positions rotate in alphabetical order between the 23 smaller Member States: currently Belgium, Sweden and Finland. Being only a little smaller than Spain, Poland has repeatedly requested a permanent Advocate General. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the number of Advocates General may—if the Court so requests—be increased to 11, with six being held permanently by the six biggest member states (adding Poland to the above-mentioned five member states), and five being rotated between the other member states.

The Registrar

The Registrar is the Court’s chief administrator. They manage departments under the authority of the Court’s president, who is appointed by the Court for a renewable term of six years. The Court may also appoint one or more Assistant Registrars. They help the Court, the Chambers, the President and the Judges in all their official functions. They are responsible for the Registry as well as for the receipt, transmission and custody of documents and pleadings that have been entered in a register initialled by the President. They are Guardian of the Seals and responsible for the Court’s archives and publications. The Registrar is responsible for the administration of the Court, its financial management and its accounts. The operation of the Court is in the hands of officials and other servants who are responsible to the Registrar under the authority of the President. The Court administers its own infrastructure; this includes the Translation Directorate, which, as of 2012 employed 44.7% of the staff of the institution.


The Court can sit in plenary session, as a Grand Chamber of 15 judges (including the president and vice-president), or in chambers of three or five judges. Plenary sittings are now very rare, and the court mostly sits in chambers of three or five judges. Each chamber elects its own president who is elected for a term of three years in the case of the five-judge chambers or one year in the case of three-judge chambers.

The Court is required to sit in full court in exceptional cases provided for in the treaties. The court may also decide to sit in full, if the issues raised are considered to be of exceptional importance. Sitting as a Grand Chamber is more common and can happen when a Member State or a Union institution, that is a party to certain proceedings, so requests, or in particularly complex or important cases.

The court acts as a collegial body: decisions are those of the court rather than of individual judges; no minority opinions are given and indeed the existence of a majority decision rather than unanimity is never suggested.

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