EU Court rules on transparency of EU justice

EU Court rules on transparency of EU justice

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg today ruled in favour
of the German civil liberties activist and pirate party member Patrick
Breyer (Commission vs. Breyer, C-213/15 P):[1] It ordered the Commission
to give the press and the public access to the pleadings exchanged in
completed court proceedings. In the present case Breyer successfully
demanded the Commission disclose Austrian pleadings concerning the
non-transposition of the controversial EU Data Retention Directive.
However the Court fined Breyer for publishing the written submissions in
his own case on his homepage.[2]

“Today’s ruling confirms that the EU‘s judicial system is lacking
transparency and in urgent need of reform”, comments Breyer. “Since EU
judges appear to consider transparency in pending proceedings a threat,
the EU needs to revise the Court rules in accordance with those
applicable to the European Court of Human Rights. Indifferently
prohibiting parties from publishing pleadings – including their own – is
inaceptable and endangers the freedom of the press.

This judgement turns important cases with potentially far-reaching
implications for every one of us into secret proceedings. In landmark
cases the press and the public should not be faced with irreversible
facts. Protecting our governments’ and institutions’ conduct in court
from public criticism and control contradicts the concept of democratic
oversight and freedom of the press.

This in-transparency fosters mistrust instead of building trust in times
of the EU experiencing a crisis of acceptance. Justice needs openness.
More transparency is for example needed where EU Courts deal with mass
surveillance programmes such as blanket data retention. The
admissibility of such interferences in our civil liberties is of general
interest. The arguments and applications put forward by our governments
in court need to be subjected to public scrutiny.”

Background:

As the ECJ does not grant access to written submissions, Breyer in 2011
asked the Commission to disclose Austrian pleadings concerning the
non-transposition of the controversial EU Data Retention Directive. The
Court of First Instance ruled in favour of Breyer and the Commission
disclosed the pleadings[3] but filed an appeal against the judgement.
The ECJ rejected this appeal today.

Advocate General Bobek in December proposed broadening access to Court
documents:[4] Documents ought to be made available upon request, in both
closed as well as, to a more limited extent, in pending cases. Advocate
General Bobek also suggested that pleadings could be routinely published
on the Internet. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
already grants access to written submissions upon request.

Patrick Breyer is a digital rights activist and a Pirate Party member in Germany. He has won court cases earlier where one of them decided that IP addresses are deemed personal data.

Footnotes:

[1] Official press release:
https://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2017-07/cp170080en.pdf

[2] Case file (in German): http://www.patrick-breyer.de/?p=561245

[3] Pleadings disclosed by the Commission after the judgement in first
instance: http://www.patrick-breyer.de/?p=561245#Neubescheid

[4] Advocate General Bobek proposes broader access to Court documents,
https://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2016-12/cp160141en.pdf

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