Justice delayed is justice denied
In 2013, the EU's highest court, the Court of Justice of the EU, completed 701 cases (up from 595 in 2012). It had 699 new cases brought before it, which is the highest number ever. The average duration of proceedings was 16 months, in the case of references for preliminary ruling, and 24 months in direct actions and appeals.
The General Court (the EU's lower court), decided 703 cases and had 790 new cases brought before it (up from 550 in 2012). The average duration of proceedings was 27 months.
The time taken for the EU Courts to complete their hearings is a cause of increasing irritation. Now, a number of companies found guilty of having participated in the industrial bags cartel in 2005, are seeking damages from the EU for loss suffered as a consequence of the time taken to rule on their appeals.
In 2005, the EU Commission imposed fines totalling €290 million on a number of manufacturers of heavy duty plastic bags used in the agricultural/industrial sector. A number of the cartelists, including Groupe Gascogne, appealed against the Commission's decision. The application was lodged with the General Court in February 2006. The hearing took place in February 2011 and proceedings ended in November 2011, meaning that the General Court took more than six years to reach a decision (Groupe Gascogne's appeal was dismissed).
Groupe Gascogne appealed the decision of the General Court to the Court of Justice. The higher Court upheld the General Court's decision and therefore the Commission's original cartel decision stood. However, the Court of Justice also ruled that six years was too long and infringed the companies' right, under Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, to have their case heard within a reasonable time.
To the extent that Groupe Gascogne has suffered loss (since the date of the Commission's decision it had chosen not to pay the fine immediately, but rather it had been paying interest on the amount of the fine imposed and provided a bank guarantee pending the outcome of the appeal), it should seek a remedy in damages.
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