(CN) - The European Parliament's legal affairs committee approved a plan on Thursday to boost the number of judges in the EU's lower court by 28, and recommended improving the "gender balance" of the bench.
This past April, the European Court of Justice begged lawmakers for an overhaul of the EU's judiciary to deal with crushing caseloads and to dodge speedy-trial lawsuits filed by angry citizens.
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.
Acting on a cheaper plan advanced by the EU high court, the legal affairs committee voted 18-5 to appoint 21 new judges by 2019 and transfer another 8 judges from the civil service tribunal - the court that hears cases involving government employees in the EU.
The committee also recommended that the general court find a way to improve gender balance on the bench. To do so, member states that nominate a second judge must choose a candidate that is the opposite sex to that of the sitting judge.
While the committee's proposal will be voted on by the full parliament later this month, it must also pass the EU Council. The committee said it would order its negotiating team to meet with the council to find "a possible agreement."