Overworked EU Courts Scream for Reform

     (CN) – A beleaguered European Court of Justice says it needs an overhaul to deal with crushing caseloads and to dodge speedy-trial lawsuits filed by angry citizens.
     The EU high court said on Wednesday that the Council of the European Union has signed off on its reform package in principle. The proposal is now being examined by the European Parliament.
     Of particular concern is the nearly threefold increase in cases lodged with the EU general court between 2000 and 2014 – with annual increases on the horizon, the high court said.
     And while the general court has reported efficiency improvements in recent years, handling the sheer volume of cases filed each year in a timely manner has become untenable, the high court said.
     The backlog has already resulted in five speedy-trial actions filed against the EU judiciary by disgruntled parties in the last year, claiming a total of $30 million in damages.
     But the road to reform has not been easy. In 2011, the Court of Justice requested to increase the number of lower-court judges from 27 to 39 – a request that was tentatively approved by EU lawmakers before being derailed by member-state representatives who couldn’t agree how the new judges should be appointed, the court said.
     So the EU judiciary has modified its proposal, calling for the addition of 21 lower-court judges periodically between now and 2019. If approved, the general court would see a total of 56 judges by the end of 2019.
     The increase would allow the Court of Justice to transfer some of its cases to the lower court to alleviate its own backlog, the court said.
     To get lawmakers to sign off on the deal, the high court agreed to drop the cost of its proposal by 25 percent – primarily by staffing the new judges with people who already work for the Court of Justice.
     Still, the proposal will cost nearly $16 million – although the high court notes that is about 0.01 percent of the EU’s budget. But not acting has an even greater cost, the court said.
     “If a decision is not taken soon, the situation will rapidly worsen to the detriment of EU citizens and the EU’s budget,” the court said. “Indeed, given the size of the sums involved, the risk to the proper functioning of the internal market due to the lack of a long-term solution would be significant. Fines imposed by the commission that are contested before the general0cCourt and recoveries ordered in state aid cases amount to billions of euros. These are all blocked until a judgment is handed down and therefore are not being injected into the European economy.”

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