General Court adopts new procedural rules

12.08.2015

The General Court of the European Union (“GC”) has adopted new rules of procedure (“RoP”) and new implementing measures which both entered into force on 1 July 2015, replacing their predecessor version of 1991. The new version of the RoP aims to allow the GC to work more efficiently and bring some substantial changes for EU court proceedings. The text and provisions of the new RoP have been completely restructured. In particular there is a clearer distinction between the three main types of action brought before the GC, i.e. (i) direct actions, in which preliminary issues, applications to intervene and applications for confidential treatment are especially numerous, (ii) actions in the field of intellectual property, and (iii) appeals against decisions of the Civil Service Tribunal.

As regards the content of the new RoP it can be highlighted, inter alia, that

  • the provisions relating to a single Judge have been extended and will now also apply to intellectual property cases;
  • the rules on intervention have been simplified, clarified and the possibility to intervene has been limited;
  • there are more cases in which the GC is now able to rule on its own in an expedited procedure and without an oral hearing, such as in direct actions if none of the main parties has requested a hearing;
  • provisions which were previously only contained in practice directions to parties or in instructions to the registrar of the GC are now part of the new RoP, such as those relating to the length of pleadings or the provisions concerning anonymity or access to files;
  • specific new procedures have been included regarding the procedural treatment of confidential information.

It is to be welcomed that the RoP are now much more clearly structured, headings being included and more easily understandable wording being used than than in the previous version. To some extent this procedural clarity aligns with the requirements of a fair trial, as required under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In particular some of the amendments – such as the restrictions on the right to intervene – might also have an impact on competition cases. Interested third parties will now need to react much quicker than in the past (e.g. in merger cases or administrative proceeding when decisions are challenged before the GC). Moreover, the changes have the potential to speed up EU court proceedings, such as the GC’s power to unilaterally decide to use the expedited procedure. It is commendable that the GC is no longer required to hold a hearing if it believes it has sufficient information on the basis of the case file and the main parties have not requested a hearing within three weeks following the notification of the closure of the written procedure. It can also be positively noted that care has been taken to ensure consistency in particular with the RoP of the ECJ, for instance the GC’s new power to specify matters on which a reply or rejoinder, as the case may be, should focus.

In this respect, however, the new RoP may also bear the risk of the rights of the parties being curtailed, so the GC should prudently make use of its new powers. Moreover, there is still reason to demand further improvement: Proceedings before the GC and ECJ are still quite formalistic, providing many restrictions for the parties (such as a limitation of the length of written submissions) and still take substantial time which is burdensome in particular for undertakings seeking legal review of decisions by the European Commission which have a negative impact on them (such as prohibitions or sanctions). Thus, it has yet to be seen whether the proceedings before the GC can be improved even further in the future, in particular for the benefit of litigants challenging EU decisions.

 

Any questions?  Please contact: Dr. Sebastian Janka

Practice Group: Regulatory & Governmental Affairs