Court of Justice Contests Its Liability for a Breach Committed by One of Its Own Courts

On Feb. 17, 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) brought an appeal before the Court of Justice against an order of the General Court that had found that the CJEU was the correct representative of the EU in an action for damages. The action for damages—that seeks to engage the non-contractual liability of the EU—arises as a result of a General Court failure to deliver a judgment within a reasonable time.[1]  As the latest development in a tussle that began in February 2006, the CJEU is contesting its liability for a breach committed by one of its own courts.[2]  The General Court’s responsibility for the excessively long proceedings (approximately five years and nine months) has already been confirmed.

The CJEU’s arguments concern the objective impartiality of the General Court to assess a breach committed by the same judicial body. The judgment under appeal had held that the Treaties of the EU ensure the independence and impartiality of the bench that will hear the case. In the wider context, the action for damages is the first of a number of similar cases that taken together involve claims for damages of close to €20 million. The entire budget of the CJEU for 2015 is just €357 million. To deal with a serious backlog of cases, the CJEU has also requested the appointment of 28 additional judges with an estimated cost burden of €22.9 million a year.

The proceedings, which stem from a Commission decision fining Kendrion €34 million for its participation in the “Industrial bags” cartel, can be summarised as follows:

  • Nov. 30, 2005: the Commission fined Kendrion €34 million.
  • Feb. 22, 2006: Kendrion brought an action before the General Court for annulment of the Commission decision.
  • Nov. 16, 2011: the General Court dismissed the appeal and ruled as ineffective Kendrion’s complaint concerning the time taken by the General Court to deliver its judgment. Kendrion had requested that the Commission’s fine be reduced to take into account the excessive length of the proceedings.
  • Nov. 26, 2013: the Court of Justice dismissed Kendrion’s appeal against the General Court’s judgment but stated that the length of the proceedings could not be justified by any of the circumstances of the case. The procedure had breached Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union by failing to comply with the requirement to adjudicate within a reasonable time period. The Court stated that a claim for compensation would have to be brought before the General Court.
  • Jun. 25, 2014: Kendrion brought an action for damages before the General Court against the CJEU claiming, in respect of material damage, approximately €2.3 million and, in respect of non-material damage, approximately €11.1 million.
  • Jan. 6, 2015: the General Court dismissed an application lodged by the CJEU that raised a plea of inadmissibility against Kendrion’s damages action and a request that the CJEU be replaced by the Commission as defendant.
  • Feb. 17, 2015: the CJEU brought an appeal before the Court of Justice against the order of the General Court.

Information on the CJEU’s appeal can be found here.

[1] Case C-71/15 P, CJEU v Kendrion is the appeal brought by the CJEU against the order of the General Court made on Jan. 6, 2015, in Case T-479/14, Kendrion v European Union.

[2] The CJEU, which constitutes the judicial authority of the EU, consists of three courts:  the Court of Justice, the General Court and the Civil Service Tribunal.