By Laurens Ankersmit
In a significant win for access to justice in environmental matters, the Court’s Grand Chamber found that Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (the right to an effective remedy), read together with the Aarhus Convention, precluded the application of national procedural rules allowing for swift decision-making at the expense of rights granted to environmental NGOs. The case’s procedural history is very complex (the Advocate General referred to it as either Kafkaesque or tilting windmills like Don Quixote, depending on your point of view), so after only a brief factual discussion I will focus on the two major constitutional issues that the Court had to deal with:
- The legal effects of the Aarhus Convention in the EU legal order;
- The meaning of Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR).
The Grand Chamber today dismissed the appeal by the seal hunters to annul the basic regulation prohibiting the marketing of seal products on the EU internal market. As expected, the CJEU held that the seal hunters lacked standing to challenge a legislative act. This does not mean that the seal hunters will not prevail in the end (although I doubt it), as they have also challenged the Commission implementing Regulation, which will enable them to challenge the basic Regulation too (the decision of the GC in that case can be found here and my comments are here). What makes the judgment worth mentioning here though, is the more general relevance of the Grand Chamber’s interpretation of the concept of a ‘regulatory act’. This concept was introduced with the Lisbon Treaty and was intended to make it easier to challenge EU legal acts which were not of a legislative nature.
As part of recent Spanish measures to reduce public expenses and increase public income, the Spanish Ley 10/2012 substantially raises judicial fees (a “tasa judicial” is a fee charged when citizens access certain judicial services), a move that has generated a great deal of protests by judges, lawyers and citizens alike. Under the new system, a simple European order for payment procedure will cost 100 euro, and an appeal before the labour courts will now cost between 500 and 10,500 euro, depending on the amount at stake.
The Government of Catalonia has announced that it will challenge the constitutionality of the Ley, on the basis that it is contrary to Article 24 of the Spanish Constitution, which guarantees effective judicial protection. However, in the absence of a system to preventively suspend the application of national laws during unconstitutionality procedures, judicial fees must be paid at the higher rate until the Constitutional Court decides the issue. And here is where European Law may come to the rescue. If the new judicial fees could be considered so high as to clash with the principles of effectiveness and equivalence, EU law would become a useful tool to declare the fees inapplicable. Continue reading