The General Court is made up of at least one judge from each Member State (44 judges in 2016). The judges are appointed by common accord of the governments of the Member States after consultation of a panel responsible for giving an opinion on candidates' suitability to perform the duties of Judge. Their term of office is six years, and is renewable. They appoint their President, for a period of three years, from amongst themselves. They appoint a Registrar for a term of office of six years.
The Judges perform their duties in a totally impartial and independent manner.
Unlike the Court of Justice, the General Court does not have permanent Advocates General. However, that task may, in exceptional circumstances, be carried out by a Judge.
Cases before the General Court are heard by Chambers of five or three Judges or, in some cases, as a single Judge. It may also sit as a Grand Chamber (fifteen Judges) when this is justified by the legal complexity or importance of the case.
The Presidents of the Chambers of five Judges are elected from amongst the Judges for a period of three years.
The General Court has its own Registry, but uses the administrative and linguistic services of the institution for its other requirements.
The General Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine:
- actions brought by natural or legal persons against acts of the institutions, bodies, offices or agencies of the European Union (which are addressed to them or are of direct and individual concern to them) and against regulatory acts (which concern them directly and which do not entail implementing measures) or against a failure to act on the part of those institutions, bodies, offices or agencies; for example, a case brought by a company against a Commission decision imposing a fine on that company;
- actions brought by the Member States against the Commission;
- actions brought by the Member States against the Council relating to acts adopted in the field of State aid, trade protection measures (dumping) and acts by which it exercises implementing powers;
- actions seeking compensation for damage caused by the institutions or the bodies, offices or agencies of the European Union or their staff;
- actions based on contracts made by the European Union which expressly give jurisdiction to the General Court;
- actions relating to intellectual property brought against the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (Trade Marks and Designs) and against the Community Plant Variety Office;
- appeals, limited to points of law, against the decisions of the Civil Service Tribunal.
The decisions of the General Court may, within two months, be subject to an appeal before the Court of Justice, limited to points of law.
At 31 December 2014, the pending cases were split as follows: 61% direct actions, 34% intellectual property cases and 5% appeals and special procedures.
The General Court has its own Rules of Procedure. In principle, the proceedings include a written phase and an oral phase.
An application, drawn up by a lawyer or agent and sent to the Registry, opens the proceedings. The main points of the action are published in a notice, in all official languages, in the Official Journal of the European Union. The Registrar sends the application to the other party to the case, which then has a period of two months within which to file a defence. In direct actions, in principle, the applicant may file a reply, within a certain time-limit, to which the defendant may respond with a rejoinder.
Any person who can prove an interest in the outcome of a case before the General Court, as well as the Member States and the institutions of the European Union, may intervene in the proceedings. The intervener submits a statement in intervention, supporting or opposing the claims of one of the parties, to which the parties may then respond.
During thepossible oral phase of the proceedings a public hearing is held. When the lawyers are heard, the Judges can put questions to the parties' representatives. The Judge-Rapporteur summarises, in a report for the hearing, the facts relied on and the arguments of each party and, if applicable, of the interveners. This document is available to the public in the language of the case.
The Judges then deliberate on the basis of a draft judgment prepared by the Judge-Rapporteur and the judgment is delivered at a public hearing.
The procedure before the General Court is free of court fees. However, the costs of the lawyer entitled to appear before a court in a Member State, by whom the parties must be represented, are not paid by the General Court. Even so, any person who is not able to meet the costs of the case may apply for legal aid.
An action brought before the General Court does not suspend the operation of the contested act. The Court may, however, order its suspension or other interim measures.
The President of the General Court or, if necessary, the Vice President, rules on the application for interim measures in a reasoned order.
Interim measures are granted only if three conditions are met:
- the action in the main proceedings must not appear, at first sight, to be without reasonable substance;
- the applicant must show that the measures are urgent and that it would suffer serious and irreparable harm without them;
- the interim measures must take account of the balancing of the parties' interests and of the public interest.
The order is provisional in nature and in no way prejudges the decision of the General Court in the main proceedings. In addition, an appeal against it may be brought before the Vice President of the Court of Justice.
This procedure allows the General Court to rule quickly on the substance of the dispute in cases considered to be particularly urgent.
The expedited procedure may be requested by the applicant or by the defendant. It may also be adopted of the General Court's own motion.
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Flowchart of procedure
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