Court of Justice/EU Court

Court of Justice (Photo: Court of Justice)


The Lisbon Treaty makes the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding. Therefore the EU Court has the potential of becoming a rival to the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg -  both being courts which will be dealing with human rights issues. It also provides for the EU Court to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is currently interpreted by the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The Lisbon Treaty increases the competences of the EU Court and make it possible to establish new specialised courts with qualified majority.


The European Court is not a normal court deciding on verdicts on the basis of laws from a parliament. The EU-Court also develops the law. The Court  has established EU law as a constitutional system which has primacy over national laws.

A verdict from the Court may have effects which cannot be changed even if all members of the European Parliament should unanimously desire such chages. An interpretation of the treaties by the Court can only be changed by a new treaty agreed by all 27 governments and then ratified with the support of the 27 national parliaments or by referendums in some countries.


Up to May 2009 the Court of Justice had given 7,968 verdicts. The Court of First Instance has added 2,354. In total the politically decided acquis  of Community law has been supplemented by 10,322 Court of Justice verdicts. In establishing  these verdicts the Court has been assisted by 3,326 preliminary statements from its advocates-generals. These normally conform with what the Court later decides, but not necessarily so.  

The EU Court is based in Luxembourg. The Court adjudicates on cases under the EU treaties. It is the final interpreter of EU legal disputes under the treaties and its decisions cannot be appealed against. It is therefore the supreme court of the European Union. 

It adjudicates in cases brought before it by citizens or associations, by member states against one another, by member states against the EU institutions and vice versa, and by EU institutions against one another.

The Court consists of one judge from each  member state  and eight advocates-general, who prepare the cases. It is divided into chambers.

The Court is only responsible for first pillar (supra-national) issues, where supranational Community law applies,  and is therefore officially called the European Community Court. Under the Treaty of Nice the Court gained competence in some Justice and Home Affairs and consequently may now be called the EU Court.

The Court has been a major influence in interpreting the treaties in ways that have effectively extended EU competence to the widest possible extent. In 1964, in the Costa vs. Enel case, it decided that EU law must over-ride (that is, have primacy over) national law.

In 1970, in the Internationale Handelsgesellschaft and Simmenthal cases it decided that EU law also over-rides (has primacy over) national constitutions. 

The language of the Court is French. Its deliberations are secret and the Court does not publish dissenting votes. 

One does not need to be a judge to be a member of the Court. Among its judges for example have been professors of law and politicians.


It has a lower court, the Court of First Instance, to which cases concerning competition policy, staff disputes and certain other less important matters are delegated.