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European Union: Council Recommends Introduction of the European Case Law Identifier and a Minimum Set of Uniform Metadata for Case Law

(May 17, 2011) On April 29, 2011, the Council of the European Union, within the framework of its multi-annual European e-Justice Action Plan of 2009-2012, adopted its conclusions on the introduction of the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) and stressed the significance of cross-border access to national case law and the need to standardize such access. (Council Conclusions Inviting the Introduction of the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) and a Minimum Set of Uniform Metadata for Case Law 2011, OFFICIAL JOURNAL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION (C/127) 1 (Apr. 29, 2011).)

A key component of establishing and maintaining at the EU level an area of freedom, security, and justice is the European e-Justice portal, whose main goal is the dissemination of information on the various legal systems of the EU Member States to the national authorities, the legal profession, and the public at large. The Council noted that those interested in EU law may acquire knowledge and familiarity with it not only from EU legal sources, including databases and written materials, but also from the case law of national courts, including cases in which a national court requests a preliminary ruling and then makes a decision based on that preliminary ruling, as well as decisions of courts when they apply EU law on their own.

The Council, in its conclusions, identified a number of initiatives that have been put in operation and supported financially and administratively by the EU in order to achieve the goal of disseminating to all information on the legal systems of the 27 EU Member States. These initiatives include:

· a network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Court of the EU;

· the “Dec. Nat.” and Jurifast databases of the Association of Councils of State and Supreme Administrative Jurisdiction of the EU;

· the JURE (Jurisdiction Recognition Enforcement database of the European Commission; and

· EUR-lex and the case law database of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

The Council also noted that researching the above databases is a time-consuming and cumbersome task and, quite often, the databases are not user-friendly. A study done by the Working Group on e-Law attributed such problems not only to the databases' multilingualism but also to the lack of uniform identifiers for case law. Some national court systems have developed their own identification systems, while in other EU states identifiers have been introduced by vendors. (Id.)

The Council invited the EU Members to apply the ECLI at the national level and on a voluntary basis.

The format of the ECLI is included in the Annex to the Conclusions. The ECLI must consist of five components, which must appear in the order that is shown in the Annex, as follows:

a) the abbreviation “ECLI”;

b) the country code for the country under whose jurisdiction the judicial decision is rendered, namely:

· for EU Members and candidate countries, the codes in the inter-institutional style guide (the guide used in preparing legislation) are used;

· for other countries, the standard ISO 3166 alpha-2 is used;

· for the European Union, the code “EU” is used;

· for international organizations, the Commission determines a code, taking into account the fact that codes starting with “X” are already being used by EU institutions;

c) the abbreviation for the court or tribunal. The court code must have, inter alia, the following:

· a minimum of one and maximum of seven characters; and

· a letter to begin the code, but the rest of the code may contain numbers;

d) the year of the decision, which must be written in four digits; and

e) an ordinal number that must be unique and identify a specific case of a specific court issued in a specific year. (Id.)