Petition zur Schaffung eines Akteneinsichtsrechts bei dem EuGH [ergänzt am 28.09.2011]

Heute wurde folgende Petition bei dem Europäischen Parlament eingereicht:

Einsichtsrecht in Akten des EU-Gerichtshofs

Aus verschiedenen Gründen können Personen, die an einem Gerichtsverfahren vor dem EU-Gerichtshof nicht beteiligt sind, ein berechtigtes Interesse an der Einsicht in die Verfahrensakten haben. Ein berechtigtes Interesse kann bestehen, wenn die Akteneinsicht zur Durchsetzung von Grundrechten oder sonstigen Rechten erforderlich ist. Es kann auch ein wissenschaftliches Interesse an dem Akteninhalt zu Forschungszwecken bestehen, etwa für wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen oder Publikationen. Schließlich kann im Einzelfall ein berechtigtes Interesse der Presse und Öffentlichkeit anzuerkennen sein.

Auf einen Einsichtsantrag, der auf den ersten Grund (Rechtsverfolgung) gestützt war, teilte mir die Kanzlei des EU-Gerichtshofs am 12.11.2009 mit: „I have been instructed by the deputy-registrar to inform you that there is no rule in the Statute of the Court or in the Rules of procedure of the Court that prohibits access to the written pleadings to third parties and there is no rule in the said texts that allows such access. The practice of the Court is and has always been not to grant access to the non-public documents of a case to third parties.“

Diese rigide Praxis halte ich nicht für sachgerecht. Ich bitte darum, die Satzung des Gerichtshofs so zu ändern, dass die Einsicht Dritter in Verfahrensakten ermöglicht wird, wenn sie ein berechtigtes Interesse an dem Akteninhalt glaubhaft machen können. Dafür führe ich die folgenden Gründe an:

1. In Art. 1 Abs. 2 EU ist der Grundsatz der Offenheit der Union verankert, mit dem sich die generelle Versagung von Einsicht in Akten des EU-Gerichtshofs nicht in Einklang bringen lässt.

2. Wie der Generalanwalt erst kürzlich ausgeführt hat (Schlussanträge in den verbundenen Rechtssachen C‑514/07 P, C‑528/07 P and C‑532/07 P), sind Schriftsätze der Beteiligten an den Europäischen Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte grundsätzlich öffentlich (Art. 33 der Verfahrensordnung). Auch dem EU-Gerichtshof kommt heute zunehmend die Funktion eines Verfassungsgerichts zu.

3. Die Rechtstraditionen der Mitgliedsstaaten erfordern eine allgemeine Geheimhaltung von Akten des EU-Gerichtshofs nicht. Die mit Abstand häufigste Regelung in den Mitgliedsstaaten sieht vor, dass die Gerichte Zugang zu Verfahrensakten nach Ermessen oder nach einer Abwägung der einschlägigen Interessen gewähren können. Nur eine Minderheit der Mitgliedsstaaten verwehrt jeden Zugang zu nicht-öffentlichen Dokumenten in Verfahrensakten.

4. Artikel 5 (7) der Dienstanweisung für den Kanzler des Gerichts Erster Instanz sieht schon heute die Möglichkeit vor, Akteneinsicht zu gewähren. Die Vorschrift ist aber auf das Gericht Erster Instanz beschränkt und läuft zurzeit leer, weil das eröffnete Ermessen dahin ausgeübt wird, dass nie Einsicht gewährt wird. Das freie Ermessen des Gerichtshofs muss durch ein Einsichtsrecht ersetzt werden.

5. Gegebenenfalls kann ein Recht auf Akteneinsicht von weiteren Sicherungen abhängig gemacht werden, beispielsweise von der vorherigen Anhörung der Beteiligten, von dem Verfahrensstadium, von einer teilweisen Schwärzung usw. Nicht akzeptabel ist aber die gegenwärtige Situation, in der keinerlei Einsicht gewährt wird. Dies wird der gestiegenen Bedeutung der Verfahren vor dem EU-Gerichtshof für die Gesellschaft nicht mehr gerecht.

Infolgedessen bitte ich darum, die Satzung des Gerichtshofs so zu ändern, dass die Einsicht Dritter in Verfahrensakten ermöglicht wird, wenn sie ein berechtigtes Interesse an dem Akteninhalt glaubhaft machen können. Das Europäische Parlament möge die Kommission um Vorlage eines entsprechenden Vorschlags zur Ergänzung der Satzung des EU-Gerichtshofs ersuchen (Art. 281 AEUV).

Ergänzung vom 08.07.2011:

Der Petitionsausschuss des Europaparlaments behandelt die Petition unter der Nummer 163/2010.

Der Ausschuss hat zunächst die EU-Kommission um eine Stellungnahme gebeten. Diese hat mitgeteilt, dass der Europäische Gerichtshof selbst am geeignetsten wäre, zu überprüfen, ob die Regelungen zum Zugang zu seinen Akten geändert werden sollten. Nachdem der Gerichtshof aber in ständiger Praxis keinen Informationszugang gewährt, ist kaum anzunehmen, dass er Änderungsbedarf sehen wird.

Der Ausschuss hat sodann den Rechtsausschuss um eine Stellungnahme gebeten. Der Rechtsausschuss hat das Problem im März 2011 mündlich beraten (Video der Sitzung hier, vorspulen zu 17.21 Uhr). Berichterstatterin ist die Abgeordnete Eva Lichtenberger. Die meisten Abgeordneten, die sich geäußert haben, haben sich für ein Recht auf Zugang zu Gerichtsakten ausgesprochen, jedenfalls wenn ein berechtigtes Interesse besteht. Der Ausschuss hat beschlossen, den Europäischen Gerichtshof nach seiner Meinung zu fragen.

Außerdem hat der Rechtsausschuss eine Stellungnahme für den Petitionsausschuss abgegeben. Darin hebt er die möglichen Vorteile einer Verfahrensweise hervor, abhängig von bestimmten Bedingungen Zugang zu Akten zu gewähren (anstatt ihn wie bisher generell zu verweigern).

Ergänzung vom 13.07.2011:

Die Stellungnahme des Rechtsausschusses in deutscher Übersetzung

Ergänzung vom 28.07.2011:

Die Stellungnahme des Juristischen Dienstes vom 15.03.2011:

SJ-0143/11
UR/jc
D(2011) 14221

LEGAL OPINION

Re: JURI – Petition 163/2010 – third-party access to case files of the Court of Justice – call for Parliament to request the Commission to present a proposal to amend the Court’s Statute

1. INTRODUCTION

1. By letter of 10 February 2011, received at the Legal Service on 22 February 2011, Mr Klaus-Heiner LEHNE, chairman of the Committee of Legal Affairs, requested a legal opinion on the issues raised by Petition 163/2010 by … (German), following the exchange of views with the Legal Service in the Committee on 27 January 2011.

2. The petitioner asserts that individuals who can show they have a legitimate interest in the case should have access to case files of the Court of Justice and calls for the Statute of the Court of Justice to be amended to allow third parties such access. He asks the European Parliament to request the Commission to submit an appropriate proposal for the amendment of the Court’s statute.

3. The Committee on Legal Affairs has been asked by the Petitions Committee to give its opinion on this matter.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

1. Petition 163/2010

4. In 2009 the petitioner was refused access to the file in a case before the Court of Justice. In its reply, the Registry of the Court of Justice informed the petitioner „that there is no rule in the Statute of the Court or in the Rules of procedure of the Court that prohibits access to the written pleadings to third parties and that there is no rules in the said texts that allows such access. The practice of the Court is and has always been not to grant access to non-public documents of a case to third parties“

5. In his petition the petitioner asserts that there can be legitimate reasons for third parties to be granted access to case files of the Court of Justice.

6. In support of his claim the petitioner presents the following arguments:

  • The practice of the Court is incompatible with the principle of open decision-making enshrined in Article 1 (2) TEU;
  • As the Advocate General Poiares Maduro points out in his Opinion in Joined Cases C-514/07 P, C-528/07 P and C 532/07 P, under Rule 33 of the Rules of the European Court of Human Rights all documents deposited with the Registry of that court by the parties or by any third party in connection with an application are in principle accessible to the public;
  • The legal traditions of most of the Member States do not require case files of their courts to be kept secret. By far the most common rule in the Member States is that access to procedural files is at the court’s discretion and is granted after weighing-up the interests concerned. Only a minority of the Member States deny any access to non-public documents hi case files;
  • Article 5(7) of the Instructions to the Registrar of the General Court allows for access to case files, though this is restricted to the General Court and current practice is not to allow access. The claimant wants the discretion of the Court to be replaced by a right to access;
  • If need be, the right of access to files in specific cases could be made conditional upon e.g. the prior hearing of the parties, the stage of the procedure, partial blackening (hiding text).

2. The position of the Commission

The Petitions Committee on 14 June 2010 declared the petition to be admissible and requested information from the Commission under Rule 202(6) of Parliament’s Rule of Procedure.

In its reply the Commission points out that, under Article 281 TFEU, the provisions of the Statute of the Court of Justice can be amended by Parliament and Council either at the request of the Court of Justice or following a proposal from the Commission. Given that Article 15(3), fourth subparagraph, TFEU limits the granting of access to documents concerning the Court of Justice’s administrative tasks, the Commission considers that the Court of Justice is best placed to assess the advisability of asking the legislature to amend the existing provisions in order to grant access to files on judicial proceedings.

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

9. The following analysis will first assess the question whether under the present legal situation there is any obligation for the Court of Justice to grant third parties access to case files. Subsequently, Parliament’s possibilities to react to the petition will be discussed.

1. The present legal situation on granting access to case files of the Court of Justice

a) Primary law

10. Article 15(3), first subparagraph, TFEU stipulates that

„any citizen of the Union, and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State, shall have a right of access to documents of the Union’s institutions, bodies and agencies, whatever their medium, subject to the principles and conditions defined in accordance with this paragraph“.

11. The Court of Justice, however, is only partly subject to the obligation of transparency laid down in this provision. The Treaty imposes an obligation on the Court to disclose its documents „only when exercising [its] administrative tasks“ (Article 15(3), fourth subparagraph, TFEU). It follows from this provision that, as regards its judicial activities, the Court is not obliged to grant access to its documents, as the other institutions must in respect of all of their activities.

12. In the API case, the Court held that the fact that it is not among the institutions which are entirely subject to the obligation to disclose its documents „is justified precisely because of the nature of the judicial responsibilities which it is called upon to discharge under Article 220 EC.“

13. Furthermore, the Court held that „the exclusion of judicial activities from the scope of the right of access to documents, without any distinction being drawn between the various procedural stages, is justified in the light of the need to ensure that, throughout the court proceedings, the exchange of argument by the parties and the deliberations of the Court in the case before it take place in an atmosphere of total serenity“.

14. It follows that the Court of Justice is not obliged by any express Treaty provision to provide third party access to its case files. On the other hand, there is no Treaty provision that explicitly prohibits such access. However, in case that the Court were to grant third parties access to case files, certain provisions of primary law would have to be observed. These provisions are in particular:

  • Article 16 TFEU and Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights which each provide for the protection of personal data;
  • Article 7 of the Charter which protects the right to private and family right and communications;
  • Article 339 TFEU which requires the institutions to respect professional secrecy.

15. The question remains whether – as suggested by the petitioner – this legal situation is affected by the fact that in the legal traditions of most of the Member States it falls within the discretion of the courts to provide third parties access to case files or by the fact that the court files of the European Court of Human Sights are in principle accessible to the public. It could be argued that there is a general principle of European law granting access to court files. However, it appears that even the Member States courts are not under an obligation to provide such access. In any event, the existence of such a general principle of European law could ultimately only be established by the Court of Justice itself.

b) The specific instruments applicable to the Court of Justice

16. Neither the Statute of the Court nor the Rules of Procedure provide for any specific rule on third party access to case files.

17. The Statute of the Court is silent on the matter of public access to court files. Article 31 provides that hearings shall be in public, unless the Court decides otherwise, which it almost never does. The Statute restricts those entitled to receive communication of procedural documents to the parties and to the institutions whose decisions are in dispute (Article 20(2)).

18. The Rules of Procedure of the Court of Justice provide for procedural documents to be served only on the parties to the proceedings. In particular, Article 39 of the Rules of Procedure provides that the application is to be served only on the defendant.

19. Article 16(5) of the Rules of Procedure allows third parties having an interest to consult the register and take copies of extracts; however, the same provision makes it clear that only „the parties to a case“ may obtain copies of the pleadings.

20. Moreover, the Instructions to the Registrar of the Court of Justice do not elaborate on the possibility for third parties to have access to case-files. On the other hand, Article 5(7) of the Instructions to the Registrar of the General Court provides for the possibility for a third party to have access to the case-file with the authorisation of the President and on submission of a „detailed explanation of the third party’s legitimate interest in inspecting the file“. This possibility even extends to the files in pending cases, though here the parties must be heard first. It should be noted, however, that this rule applies only to the General Court and not to the Court of Justice. Moreover, the Instructions to the Registrar belong to the internal self-organisation of the court and do not establish binding statutory rules.

21. In the light of the above, it cannot be held that the current practice of the Court of Justice not to provide third parties access to case files is incompatible with primary law or with the specific statutory rules applicable to the Court.

c) Access to ECJ files granted by other institutions

22. Under Regulation 1049/2001 third parties can ask for access to documents of the Parliament, the Council or the Commission which relate to court cases, such as the pleadings of these institutions.

23. As the Court has consistently held, Regulation 1049/2001 is intended „to give the fullest possible effect to the right of public access to documents of the institutions“. However, that right is none the less subject to certain limitations based on grounds of public or private interest. Article 4(2), third indent, of Regulation 1049/2001 provides that the institutions are to refuse access to a document where its disclosure would undermine the protection of court proceedings and legal advice unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.

24. As regards the access to the pleadings of an institution in proceedings before the Court of Justice, in the API case the Court held that „it is clear, both from the wording of the relevant provisions of the Treaties and from the broad logic of Regulation No 1049/2001 and the objectives of the relevant EU rules, that judicial activities are as such excluded from the scope, established by those rules, of the right of access to documents“.

25. The Court followed that „it is therefore appropriate to allow a general presumption that disclosure of the pleadings lodged by one of the institutions in court proceedings would undermine the protection of those proceedings, for the purposes of the second indent of Article 4(2) of Regulation No 1049/2001, while those proceedings remain pending“ (emphasis added).

26. Unless an interested third party demonstrates that in a specific court case the documents requested are not covered by this presumption, the institutions have to refuse access to their pleadings on this basis, while the proceedings are still pending. Only once the proceedings have been terminated are the institutions under an obligation to carry out a concrete assessment of each document requested in order to determine whether, given the specific content of that document, its disclosure would still undermine the court proceedings to which it relates.

27. A third party may therefore, under the conditions laid down by the Court, have access to pleadings of the EU institutions in court proceedings, which have been terminated, by asking the institution concerned directly.

28. This right, however, does not extend to the pleadings of the other parties, such as Member States, companies and individuals, which are in the possession of that institution. As regards such documents of other parties in court cases which have been terminated, according to Article 4(4) of Regulation 1049/2001, the institution concerned, before granting access, must – unless the case is clear – consult the other party with a view to assessing whether any exception under the Regulation, in particular the protection of court proceedings under Article 4(2), would prohibit the disclosure.

2. Follow-up of the petition

29. Under Article 225 TFEU the Parliament could request the Commission to submit a legislative proposal on the basis of Article 281 TFEU to amend the Statute of the Court of Justice.

30. It appears from its reply to the Petitions Committee that the Commission would rather let the Court of Justice take the legislative initiative under Article 281 TFEU to propose an amendment to its own Statute. Whether or not the Court would be willing to adopt such a course of action, or should do so, is a matter of political opportunity, rather than one which is amenable to legal analysis.

31. Any amendment of the Statute of the Court would have to respect the fact that the Court is excluded from the obligation of transparency under Article 15 TFEU as far as its judicial tasks are concerned.

32. Under certain conditions, the Court could however allow third parties access to court files; these conditions concern the necessity to respect legal protection of certain categories of information, such as personal data and information covered by professional secrecy.

IV. CONCLUSIONS

33. In light of the foregoing, the Legal Service comes to the following conclusions:

(a) The Court of Justice is subject to the institutions‘ obligation of transparency laid down in Article 15 TFEU only as regards its administrative tasks, not its judicial activities.

(b) The Court of Justice is not obliged by an express Treaty provision or statutory, rule to provide third party access to its case files.

(c) A third party may have access to pleadings of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission in proceedings before the Court of Justice which have been terminated, by asking the institution concerned directly; as regards the pleadings of other parties, such as Member States, companies and individuals, which are in the possession of that institution, the latter must consult the other party with a view to establishing whether access can be granted under Regulation 1049/2001.

(d) An amendment to the Statute of the Court of Justice could allow access to case files, provided that it respects the legal protection of certain categories of information, such as personal data and information covered by professional secrecy.

Ergänzung vom 28.09.2011:

Die Vorsitzende des Petitionsausschusses teilt mit, die Prüfung der Petition sei in der Sitzung vom12./13. Juli 2011 fortgesetzt worden. Der Petitionsausschuss habe auf der Grundlage der Stellungnahmen von Kommission und Rechtsausschuss, die er weitgehend teile, beschlossen, die Prüfung der Petition abzuschließen und sie abzulegen.

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1 Kommentar »


  1. Petition auch eingericht — 20. Februar 2010 @ 13.11 Uhr

    Habe die oben stehende Petition ebenfalls als eigene Petition eingereicht um das Anliegen zu unterstützen. Ich werde zur gegebenen Zeit ebenfalls über den Ausgang berichten. Je mehr eine Petition einreichen, desto größer die Chance auf Erfolg.

    Webmaster: Danke!

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