European Court set to overload

Recourse to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is increasing dramatically, the European Commission has confirmed.

Complaints by citizens rose 18 per cent to 1,128 in 1998 and cases brought

by commission departments soared by more than half from 261 to 396 says the

commission's annual report.

And the pace has picked up even more since then, says the commission.

Lawyers involved in taking cases to the ECJ are concerned that the court

is becoming overstretched.

Freshfields partner Paul Lomas, head of EC/competition, says: “They have

been looking hard at ways of changing it. The judges have reacted

responsibly but the court will become discredited if the delays are too


Stephen Kinsella, managing partner of Herbert Smith's Brussels office,

adds that the introduction of the Court of First Instance some years ago to

hive off less important cases has not helped much because those losing have

appealed to the ECJ, meaning many cases are heard twice.

Suggested improvements include a conciliation procedure in Luxembourg, a

crackdown on extensions and a move towards many cases being heard by a

single judge, he adds.