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Last update: 27-09-2006
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Organisation of justice - Community law

The Court of Justice of the European Communities: a court for Europe

The European Union produces its own laws and regulations. The job of the Court of Justice is to enforce and interpret these laws and ensure that they are applied uniformly in all Member States.

The Court consists of 25 judges and eight Advocates-General. It is based in Luxembourg. Since 1989, it has been assisted by a Court of First Instance.

You can find useful information about the operation and jurisdiction of the Court on its site.

As regards civil matters, the Court's main jurisdiction is for referrals for preliminary rulings.

This is a procedure allowing cooperation between the Court and the national courts which have to take decisions on disputes involving the application of Community law.

If the national courts are in doubt as to how to apply Community law, they must request clarification from the Court before giving a ruling. The matter can be referred to the Court only by the national court, but the parties to the dispute have two months in which to submit written comments, and may also put forward their arguments orally at the hearing.

This system ensures that Community law is interpreted and applied uniformly throughout the EU. The Court of Justice rules on the law, that is to say that it clarifies what the relevant Community law is. The national court to which that ruling is addressed must apply the law, as interpreted by the Court of Justice, without modification or distortion, to the dispute before it.

Some initiatives on the margins of the judicial system

Community law does not regulate the organisation of the civil courts in the Member States.

On the initiative of the European Commission, the Council has adopted a directive establishing minimum rules on legal aid. In October 2004, the Commission has presented a proposal for a Directive on mediation

Reference documents

  • Proposal for a Directive on certain aspects of mediation in civil and commercial matters (COM/2004/0718 final)
  • Council Directive 2004/80/EC of 29 April 2004 relating to compensation to crime victims
  • Council Directive 2003/8/EC of 27 January 2003 to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid for such disputes
  • Green paper on alternative dispute resolution in civil and commercial law (COM/2002/0196 final)

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Last update: 27-09-2006

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