Article 47 - Right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial
Key facts of the case:
Request for a preliminary ruling from the Curtea de Apel Bucureşti.
Reference for a preliminary ruling – Rule of law – Judicial independence – Second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU – Decision 2006/928/EC – Independence of the judiciary – Disciplinary proceedings – Judicial Inspectorate – Chief Inspector with powers of regulation, selection, assessment, appointment and disciplinary investigation.
Outcome of the case:
On those grounds, the Court (First Chamber) hereby rules:
Article 2 TEU and the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU, read in conjunction with Commission Decision 2006/928/EC of 13 December 2006 establishing a mechanism for cooperation and verification of progress in Romania to address specific benchmarks in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption,
must be interpreted as precluding national legislation:
– which confers on the director of a body competent to conduct investigations and bring disciplinary proceedings against judges and prosecutors the power to adopt acts of a normative and individual nature relating, inter alia, to the organisation of that body, the selection of its staff members, their assessment, the conduct of their activities and the appointment of a deputy director,
– where, first of all, those members of staff and the deputy director alone are competent to conduct a disciplinary investigation against that director, next, their careers depend, to a large extent, on the decisions of that director and, finally, the term of office of the deputy director will end at the same time as that of the director,
when that legislation is not designed in such a way that there can be no reasonable doubt, in the minds of individuals, that the powers and functions of that body will not be used as an instrument to exert pressure on, or political control over, the activity of those judges and prosecutors.
40) The very existence of effective judicial review designed to ensure compliance with EU law is of the essence of the rule of law. In that regard, as provided for in the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU, it is for the Member States to establish a system of legal remedies and procedures ensuring for individuals compliance with their right to effective judicial protection in the fields covered by EU law. The principle of the effective judicial protection of individuals’ rights under EU law, referred to in the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU, is a general principle of EU law stemming from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, which has been enshrined in Articles 6 and 13 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, signed in Rome on 4 November 1950, and is now reaffirmed in Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’) (judgment of 21 December 2021, Euro Box Promotion and Others, C‑357/19, C‑379/19, C‑547/19, C‑811/19 and C‑840/19, EU:C:2021:1034, paragraph 219 and the case-law cited).
42) As regards the applicability of the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU, in a situation such as that of the dispute in the main proceedings, that provision refers to the ‘fields covered by Union law’, irrespective of whether the Member States are implementing Union law within the meaning of Article 51(1) of the Charter (see, to that effect, judgment of 18 May 2021, Asociaţia ‘Forumul Judecătorilor din România’ and Others, C‑83/19, C‑127/19, C‑195/19, C‑291/19, C‑355/19 and C‑397/19, EU:C:2021:393, paragraph 192 and the case-law cited).
45) To ensure that bodies that may be called upon to rule on questions concerning the application or interpretation of EU law are in a position to ensure the effective judicial protection required under that provision, maintaining their independence is essential, as confirmed by the second paragraph of Article 47 of the Charter, which refers to access to an ‘independent’ tribunal as one of the requirements linked to the fundamental right to an effective remedy (judgment of 18 May 2021, Asociaţia ‘Forumul Judecătorilor din România’and Others, C‑83/19, C‑127/19, C‑195/19, C‑291/19, C‑355/19 and C‑397/19, EU:C:2021:393, paragraph 194 and the case-law cited).
48) As regards specifically the rules governing the disciplinary regime, the requirement of independence means that, in accordance with settled case-law, that regime must provide the necessary guarantees in order to prevent any risk of its being used as a system of political control of the content of judicial decisions. Rules which define, in particular, both conduct amounting to disciplinary offences and the penalties actually applicable, provide for the involvement of an independent body in accordance with a procedure which fully safeguards the rights enshrined in Articles 47 and 48 of the Charter, in particular the rights of the defence, and lay down the possibility of bringing legal proceedings challenging the disciplinary bodies’ decisions constitute a set of guarantees that are essential for safeguarding the independence of the judiciary (judgment of 18 May 2021, Asociația ‘Forumul Judecătorilor din România’ and Others, C‑83/19, C‑127/19, C‑195/19, C‑291/19, C‑355/19 and C‑397/19, EU:C:2021:393, paragraph 198 and the case-law cited).