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What is the General Court?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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The General Court is the court of first instance for the European Union (EU), the court people turn to when they have disputes about matters of EU law. It has jurisdiction over a wide variety of proceedings, and people dissatisfied with the outcome of cases in the General Court can turn to the European Court of Justice to file appeals. This court is tasked with interpreting and applying EU law in a wide variety of settings, and it has a very busy caseload — so busy that lesser judicial panels have been created to handle cases within specific jurisdictions.

Each member nation of the European Union must supply at least one judge to the General Court. The judges have terms but can be renewed at the end of each term, and they vote amongst themselves to appoint their presidents. The judges meet in a series of chambers with small panels of judges to hear most cases, although in special situations, a large panel of judges may be organized to sit on a complicated or particularly important case.

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By tradition, the common working language of the General Court is French and judges typically make their deliberations in French without the assistance of a translator. People before the court can present their cases in any one of the languages used in the European Union, and translators will be provided as needed. This is designed to make the court as accessible as possible to people who wish to bring legal disputes to a court of law.

In the General Court, judges can hear cases from individuals, as well as member nations. These cases include everything from copyright infringement suits to challenges of EU legislation. The judges weigh the facts of the case as presented and make a ruling on the basis of established jurisprudence, if possible. If a decision will establish new jurisprudence, the decision is written up with care to provide a basis for the outcome of the case and establish the groundwork for making similar rulings in the future.

Founded in 1989, this court sees a high volume of cases each year. It is located in Luxembourg, along with a number of other EU institutions, reflecting both historical trends and the relatively central location. People who want to bring cases into this court must follow the established procedures of the General Court, and information is published to familiarize people with the process of bringing suit in the court.

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