The Court of Justice, located in Luxembourg
, is the main court for issues of European Union
law (Community law
)—in particular, to ensure that each EU state applies the law in the same way. It was originally created in 1952
to resolve disputes within the European Coal and Steel Community
, and was extended over time to cover all the bodies that were eventually incorporated into the EU.
The court consists of one judge from each EU state, as well as eight advocates-general. For most hearings, the Court sits in a plenary session with all the judges present, although following enlargement the Court will be permitted to sit with just thirteen judges (a grand chamber). The judges and AG's are appointed by a consensus of the member states and serve for six-year terms, which can be extended up to twelve years following re-appointment. The head of the Court is a President, who is chosen by the judges from among their ranks, and then serves for a three-year term.
Generally, the Court of Justice deals with four kinds of cases:
- State courts asking for advisory opinions on Community law
- The European Commission or a member state accusing another state of not fulfilling the law
- The Council, the Commission, or a member state petitioning for annulment of an "unconstitutional" law
- Individuals or member states accusing the Council, Commission, or Parliament of not complying with the founding treaties
Each case is assigned to one judge and one AG when it comes before the Court. The judge takes written statements from the parties and sends a report to the AG summarizing the case. The AG replies with a conclusion, which the judge uses to draft a preliminary ruling.
The case then goes to public hearing, which is usually before a plenary session of the Court for most major matters, but can only involve three or five judges if smaller disputes are at stake. After both sides present their cases, the AG writes up another conclusion, which the judges use to make their decision. The final judgment of the Court is presented at a public hearing: dissents are not recorded.