The Strasbourg based European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and Luxembourg based Court of Justice of the European Communities (ECJ) courts are governed by the statutes drawn by a collaboration of member states of the European Union. ECtHR is the highest European court for human rights and fundamental freedoms which is governed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) of 1950; its mandate includes monitoring compliance by Contacting Parties (member states).
Currently, all the 47 members of the Council of Europe are contracting parties of the Convention. Once complains have been recorded, they are assigned to a Section of the Court. A committee of three judges attends to each complaint to unanimously strike it or pass it on to the full chamber which makes a decision on it. Any decision of the court is binding to the member state. The supervision of the execution of court decisions is mandated to the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
The ultimate sanction to non-compliance by any member is expulsion from the Council of Europe. Again, the European Union has vested interests in ensuring that all its members fulfill the Convention obligations as decided by the Court of Human Rights. [Key Players in EU Legislation] The ICJ on the other hand is the highest court of the European Union (EU) on matters of community law and not national law. It oversees on matters of equal application of the EU law across all its 27 member states.
The court is assisted by a lower court known as the Court of First Instance which has jurisdiction over direct actions by natural or legal persons, and the Civil Service Tribunal that attends to cases brought by employees of the EU’s institutions. The responsibility of the Court of Justice is to ensure that the law is observed in the accordance with the Treaties of European Union and the provisions as laid down by the competent European Community institutions.
The court has got a wide jurisdiction provided in order to enable it carry out it tasks of hearing various types of cases to the maximum. Further the court has competence, inter alia, to rule on applications for annulment or actions for failure to act brought by a member state or institution, actions against member states for failure to fulfill obligations, references for a preliminary ruling and appeals against decisions of the Court of the First Instance. [Borchardt, Klaus-Dieter (2000)]
Relationship between the Two Courts The two courts are super-national with equal ranks, status and caliber, standing at the apex of their respective super-national legal systems. Both courts consist of equally highly qualified judges, representing not one national legal system but legal systems of all the member states and contracting parties. Both courts use similar methods of treaty interpretation and their decisions enjoy the same high respect and authority.
Neither is subject to the other. Nevertheless, they serve the interests of the members of the EU and therefore their decisions ought to be in agreement and consistent. All the members of the EU are members of the Council of Europe and therefore signatories of the Convention on Human Rights. The Court of Justice sometimes refers to the case-law of the Court of Human Rights and treats the Convention on Human Rights as if it was an EU’s legal organ.
The EU member states joined the Convention on Human Rights; however, the EU as a whole has not joined as there does no legal obligation to do so in the current treaties. That said, the EU institutions are obligated by article 6 of the EU treaty to respect human rights under the Convention. It is hoped that the ongoing ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon will see the EU signing the Convention; this would culminate into the Court of Justice becoming bound by the Court of Human Rights and therefore subject to human rights law.
Again, the treaty will also see the European Union achieving a legal personality and therefore becoming a party to treaties and other international agreements e. g. , the ECHR, to sue and be sued, and be a member of international organizations. [House of Lords: Select Committee on European Union, Sixth report] The Court of Justice uses the Union law to ensure that EU laws are followed as provided for by the treaties and other legal instruments that governs the EU.
The court focuses mainly on judicial review of the acts of EU institutions and the interpretation of the treaties. The following are the main form of actions that are brought before the Court of Justice; (a) treaty infringement: typically instituted against a member state for failure to fulfill an obligation under treaties or regulation or directive; (b) annulment: a member state, the Council, the Commission or the parliament are free to ask the Court to annul all or part of an item of Union legislation.
Individuals may also bring this kind of action if the legislations directly affect them; (c) failure to act: this action is brought against a Union institution for inaction when it is alleged that they are legally bound to act; (d) action for damages: the courts assesses the liability of the Union for damages caused by the Union personnel; (e) appeals: the court takes appeals on legal issues only from the Court of First Instance, and; (f) preliminary rulings: the Court of Justice is the highest authority on Union law and therefore it hears referrals from national Courts on interpretations of Union law.
Once the matter has been ruled on by the Court then the National Courts are bound to follow and apply it to the case in question. [Kitchel, Ann (n. d. )]