Where Power Lies or Where Power Lied?

Tomorrow, on Tuesday 17 September, the UK Supreme Court will be asked to consider appeals from the Court of Session in Scotland, and the High Court in England on the question of whether prime minister Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen to prorogue parliament was lawful. Such a question will oblige the court to consider foundational questions of the separation of powers and the division between law and politics. It will also have to decide whether the motives of executive decision-making can be judged against principles of parliamentary sovereignty, democracy and the rule of law. If the Supreme Court finds the advice was unlawful, an even more difficult question arises in what sort of order may be given to remedy such a legal wrong: can the court order Parliament to return to a session which has ended, or the Queen to ‘un-prorogue’?

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Fighting Fire with Fire

At the first sight, the likely nomination of Věra Jourova as Commissioner for rule of law and dropping Frans Timmermans out of the portfolio appears to be a significant victory for the Visegrad Group. However, considering Jourova’s track record, her nomination might be a clever, but hazardous move by Ursula von der Leyen that may deepen the cleavage among the Visegrad countries, put an end to their coordinated acting in sovereignty related issues, and cause more headache in Budapest and Warsaw than expected.

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The Commission’s Rule of Law Blueprint for Action: A Missed Opportunity to Fully Confront Legal Hooliganism

In its first Communication entitled “Further strengthening the Rule of Law within the Union” published on 3 April 2019, the Commission offered a useful overview of the state of play while also positively inviting all stakeholders to make concrete proposals so as to enhance the EU’s “rule of law toolbox”. A follow up Communication from July 2019 sets out multiple “concrete actions for the short and medium term”. This post will highlight the most innovative actions proposed by the Commission before highlighting what we view as the main weakness of its blueprint: a reluctance to fully accept the reality of rule of law backsliding.

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Pseudo-Legal Justice

On the morning of his thirtieth birthday, Josef K., a member of the Council of the Anti-corruption Agency of Montenegro, was dismissed of his duties, by the very same body that appointed him: the Parliament of Montenegro. This could be the first sentence of a novel written by Franz Kafka if he was with us today. While Kafka’s Josef K. was arrested and left to roam free through a court building to find a courtroom in which his destiny would be determined, Josef K. in this story is in a similarly peculiar situation: He does not know which court in Montenegro he should appeal to and present his grievances. This Kafkaesque reality is the result of a questionable interpretation of the law by Montenegro’s Supreme Court – just another piece in the demise of the country’s rule of law.

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On the Rule of Law Turn on Kirchberg – Part II

The times of constitutional crisis call for a more robust approach to institutions and their respective spheres of competence and expertise. Courts of law are in the business of enforcing the rule of law. The European Court of Justice must currently rely on the unwritten and implicit understandings of the constitution to fulfill its task.

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On the Rule of Law Turn on Kirchberg – Part I

What came to be generically known as “the rule of law crisis” in the European Union has led the European Court of Justice to add a new chapter to its own jurisprudential tradition. Since 2017, the Court has been laying the foundations for a jurisprudential paradigm shift in order to defend the integrity of the EU legal system and it can thereby rely on the functions that the EU Treaties confer upon it.

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A Judge Born in the USSR

The Sofia City Court which is notorious for its corruption is currently dealing with its latest scandal which involves the citizenship of the court’s President Alexey Trifonov. There are rising concerns that he is not a Bulgarian citizen – holding Bulgarian citizenship, however, is a requirement to serve as a magistrate in Bulgaria. The answer to a question, which appears to be simple at first glance – what is judge Trifonov’s citizenship? ­– requires the study of USSR and Bulgarian citizenship law applicable in 1972. The issue has already reached Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court and illustrates the deplorable state of Bulgaria’s rule of law.

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Pre-Modern Understandings of Rule-Making

Since his entering into office a year ago, Italy’s Minister of Interior Matteo Salvini has proved to be the true leader of the governmental coalition between the Five Star Movement and the Lega, run by Salvini himself. His populist approach looks far closer to that of Orbán than to the confused ideology of the Five Star Movement. Contrary to the latter, Salvini always gives the impression of knowing exactly what he wants. Being far more predictable than his allies, he has succeeded both in seizing control of Italy’s political agenda and in gaining a huge electoral consent, not least because he knows how to fuel the popular anxiety.

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Judges Depending on Judges

Since the beginning of 2018 the CJEU has finally been putting flesh on the bones of the EU principle of judicial independence. Most recently, the Court has been widely praised for its ruling against the Polish attempt of removing the, presumably, disloyal judges by a general measure of lowering their retirement age from 70 to 65. While the decision is indeed praiseworthy, it is nevertheless necessary to emphasize its notable doctrinal lacuna with potential negative practical implications – particularly in those EU member states with a weak democratic and rule of law tradition, a low degree of legal and political culture as well as with a small and tightly-knit legal elite.

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