European Institutions and Legal Resources Online

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Institutions and Legal Resources of the European Union

(for Europe-wide Institutions and Legal Resources, not specifically EU, see later on this web page, here)

Europa is the official website of the European Union and it is the starting place for all information on the Institutions of Europe. It is a many layered site, attempting to provide information for many different types of viewer - from children, students and adult viewers with many different types of interest, through to politicians and lawyers looking for the "nitty gritty" stuff of the EU. Indeed, this is probably one of the most complex sites in the world, with so many types of viewer, so many institutions and so many languages - anyone else's design problems pale into insignificance!

After choosing your language, you are presented with information on how the EU works (countries, facts and figures, institutions), Your Life in the EU, EU by Topic (agriculture, trade, economic affairs etc), Doing Business, and EU Law. The section on EU Law describes how decisions are made, the Application of EU Law, Treaties, Legislation and Case Law. Although headed "EU Law", this section is designed for citizens rather than lawyers as such. For the EU for Lawyers, see the Eur-Lex site, described below.

The European Parliament is presented in a newsy and people-friendly fashion. As it says on the "About" page (actually named "Parliament and You") "This is your assembly, the only directly-elected European Union institution. On these pages you will find a short introduction to how the parliament works. We present its powers and functions, explain how Members of Parliament organise their work and explain how you can contact us. A final chapter is devoted to past events that have shaped the Parliament's role in the EU." Current News topics are provided here and information on MEPs is given here.

The European Commission represents the general interest of the EU and is the driving force in proposing legislation (to Parliament and the Council), administering and implementing EU policies, enforcing EU law (jointly with the Court of Justice) and negotiating in the international arena. Here is what it says about itself on the site:
"The Commission's website aims to provide:

  • information on the members, duties and organisation of the European Commission
  • information on the latest developments in EU affairs
  • the latest official press releases, photos and live TV coverage of EU affairs
  • access to public policy consultations
  • money - contracts and grants
  • information on how to contact and visit the Commission."

    The Commission has the right of initiative to propose laws for adoption by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU (national ministers). In most cases, the Commission makes proposals to meet its obligations under the EU treaties, or because another EU institution, country or stakeholder has asked it to act. From April 2012, EU citizens may also call on the Commission to propose laws (European Citizens’ Initiative).

    The principles of subsidiarity and proportionality mean that the EU may legislate only where action is more effective at EU level than at national, regional or local level, and then no more than necessary to attain the agreed objectives. Once EU legislation has been adopted, the Commission ensures that it is correctly applied by the EU member countries.

    The European Council (also known as the Council of Ministers) defines the general political direction and priorities of the European Union. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009, it has become an official institution. The European Council consists of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, or particular Ministers, together with its President and the President of the Commission. Essentially, this is the "National" part of the EU. The full Council meets twice every six months, convened by the President, a post which rotates between the countries of the EU, changing every 6 months. The meetings take place in Brussels.

    The European Court of Justice, established in 1952 and based in Luxembourg, offers a great deal of information including case law, search forms, digest of the case law, alphabetical table of subject matter, annotation of judgments and other options. Here is what is says on the site:
    "The Court of Justice of the European Union:

  • reviews the legality of the acts of the institutions of the European Union,
  • ensures that the Member States comply with obligations under the Treaties, and
  • interprets European Union law at the request of the national courts and tribunals.
    The Court thus constitutes the judicial authority of the European Union and, in cooperation with the courts and tribunals of the Member States, it ensures the uniform application and interpretation of European Union law."

    There are three courts within the overall institution: the Court of Justice, the General Court (created in 1988) and the Civil Service Tribunal (created in 2004). Since their establishment, approximately 15,000 judgments have been delivered by the three courts. As each Member State has its own language and specific legal system, the Court of Justice of the European Union is a multilingual institution. Its language arrangements have no equivalent in any other court in the world, since each of the official languages of the European Union can be the language of a case. The Court is required to observe the principle of multilingualism in full, because of the need to communicate with the parties in the language of the proceedings and to ensure that its case-law is disseminated throughout the Member States.

    EUR-Lex provides free access, in the 24 official EU languages, to:

  • the Official Journal of the European Union
  • EU law (EU treaties, directives, regulations, decisions, consolidated legislation, etc.)
  • preparatory acts (legislative proposals, reports, green and white papers, etc.)
  • EU case-law (judgements, orders, etc.)
  • international agreements
  • EFTA documents and
  • other public documents.
    To find documents or procedures there are several sorts of search - quick, advanced or expert search. You can refine a results list by using facets (search filters) or by editing the search query. You can also change the results list display and sorting criteria. You can also browse for documents in our directories and lists of documents by institution.
    This is a rather "heavy" site! Free European Resources Online is a very helpful article by Ruth Bird, Bodleian Law Librarian at the University of Oxford. Ruth provides a guide through the resources on this site. (The original article came from Slaw a long standing Canadian blog.)

    EuroCases is a multilingual web-based legal informational service providing access to case law of the leading jurisdictions in Europe related to the application of European Union law. It was developed and is continuously updated by the leading Bulgarian legal information provider APIS Europe JSC. EuroCases builds upon the achievements of the EUCases project, supported by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme for research and innovation of the European Union. It addresses the needs of lawyers, judges, in-house legal counsel and legal advisers whose professional activities are closely connected to the application of the EU law. They can access national case law from other Member States, whereby national courts apply both national and European law as well as principles developed by the Court of Justice of the EU. EuroCases also offers annotations from experienced editors on recent judgments with EU relevance, such as the recent ruling from the ECJ invalidating the Safe Harbor Agreement. Summaries of the most important cases are drafted in the language of the case and translated in English.

    European Sources Online (ESO) is an online database and information service which provides access to information on the institutions and activities of the European Union, the countries, regions and other international organisations of Europe, and on issues of importance to European researchers, citizens and stakeholders. The site includes a series of "ESO Information Guides" on EU Institutions, EU Policies and Fifty European countries. ESO provides access to thousands of expertly selected, well known and less well known websites, documents and publications from the EU and other international organisations, national governments, think tanks, stakeholder organisations, working papers etc, full text articles from Financial Times, plus bibliographic records to key academic textbooks and periodical articles, and a series of unique Information Guides compiled by the ESO Editorial Team.

    Europe-wide Institutions and Legal Resources, not specifically EU

    Council of Europe, in Strasbourg, provides a wider grouping than the European Union - any European state can become a member, provided it accepts the principle of the rule of law and guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms to everyone under its jurisdiction. The European Convention on Human Rights, which came into force on 3 September 1953, is the Council of Europe's main convention. All States wishing to become members of the Council of Europe are obliged to ratify the Convention. There are 47 states at present, 28 of which are members of the EU. Other members include several of the former Eastern European states. The European Court of Human Rights (see below) oversees the implementation of the Convention in the member states. Individuals can bring complaints of human rights violations to the Strasbourg Court once all possibilities of appeal have been exhausted in the member state concerned. The site itself is designed to be "citizen friendly" with pictures and news items but there is a great deal of information on the site ready to be brought to the surface.

    The European Court of Human Rights also based in Strasbourg, is an international court set up in 1959 which rules on individual or State applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Since 1998 it has sat as a full-time court and individuals can now apply to it directly. In almost fifty years the Court has delivered more than 10,000 judgments. These are binding on the countries concerned and have led governments to alter their legislation and administrative practice in a wide range of areas. The Court’s case-law makes the Convention a powerful living instrument for meeting new challenges and consolidating the rule of law and democracy in Europe. The Court's building was designed by the British architect Lord Richard Rogers in 1994. From here, the Court monitors respect for the human rights of 800 million Europeans in the 47 Council of Europe member States that have ratified the Convention. The site provides a history of the institution and also has recent judgments available and a searching facility called HuDoc, see below.

    The HUDOC database provides access to the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (Grand Chamber, Chamber and Committee judgments, decisions, communicated cases, advisory opinions and legal summaries from the Case-Law Information Note), the European Commission of Human Rights (decisions and reports) and the Committee of Ministers (resolutions). As of Summer 2013, the data base has been completely reformulated to provide better searching facilities and access to the ECHR judgments and decisions.

    The International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, is based at the Hague, in Holland. It began work in 1946, when it replaced the Permanent Court of International Justice which had functioned since 1922. The site offers the text of the official judgments since 1946, advisory opinions, and orders, press releases and information on the process of current cases. The decisions are published in English and French, the two official languages of the Court. As well as a "normal" list of decisions, there is also a list of contentious cases by country, so you can see which countries are the main "offenders" (you can find this under "Cases").

    The International Criminal Court, (ICC) is the first permanent, treaty based, international criminal court established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community. The ICC is an independent international organisation, and is not part of the United Nations system. Its seat is at The Hague in the Netherlands. Although the Court’s expenses are funded primarily by States Parties, it also receives voluntary contributions from governments, international organisations, individuals, corporations and other entities. This court is a later arrival than the other courts and institutions described above. In 1998, the international community reached an historic milestone when 120 States adopted the so-called Rome Statute, the legal basis for establishing the permanent International Criminal Court. This entered into force in 2002 after ratification by 60 countries.

    Eutopia law comes from members of Matrix Chambers' EU law group. It comments selectively on interesting developments in EU law, particularly as they affect lawyers’ practice areas, and at contributing to the debate on topical issues. It is not intended to promote any particular party line or view-point. The name is a pun on Thomas More's Utopia (published in 1516). "Utopia" is already a pun in Greek: it can be understood as meaning both no-place (ou-topia) and good-place (eu-topia). Eutopia is a further extension of the pun! Current posts look at the apparent suspension of the rule of law in the EU as countries seek to remedy the eurozone crisis.

    ECHR Online offers free information on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. The site is created by German Lawyer Holger Hembach who has worked for the UN, OSCE and the Council of Europe on projects in the area of justice reform and he has been involved with training lawyers on the Convention and assessing draft laws in the light of the guarantees enshrined in it. The motivation behind the site is to provide information to lawyers, potential applicants and NGOs, particularly in countries where books on the Convention are hard to come by. The site also provides links to other resources and organisations in this area. (It is not an official website of the European Court of Human Rights or the Council of Europe.)

    ECHR blog provides commentary on cases and issues at the ECHR. The blog is compiled by Antoine Buyse, of Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM), Utrecht University.

    JUSTICE is an all-party law reform and human rights organisation working to strengthen the justice system – administrative, civil and criminal – in the UK, but within an international and particularly European framework. Their vision is of fair, accessible and efficient legal processes, in which the individual's rights are protected, and which reflect the country's international reputation for upholding and promoting the rule of law.

  • They carry out research and analysis to generate, develop and evaluate ideas for law reform. In doing so, they draw on evidence, experience and expertise from the United Kingdom and across the world
  • They intervene in superior domestic and international courts, sharing their research, analysis and arguments with courts to support their work and promote strong and effective legal judgments
  • They promote a better understanding of the fair administration of justice among decision-makers and public servants
  • They bring people together to discuss critical issues about the justice system, and to provide a thoughtful legal framework to policy debates.
    JUSTICE also provides a separate site called The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights The site aims to provide a dynamic guide to the history and development of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the Charter) which was proclaimed in December 2000 and became binding in December 2009 when the Lisbon Treaty came into force. It lists the articles that the Charter contains and the EU’s explanations, supported by detailed commentary, relevant case-law, academic discussion and relevant links.

    Useful advice site related to EU issues and a citizen's rights under EU law.
    Your Europe Advice is an EU advice service for the public providing personalised advice to EU nationals on their rights under EU law. The advice is provided by legal experts from the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) operating under contract with the European Commission. They work closely with SOLVIT, a problem-solving network that deals with problems between individuals or companies and the authorities in another country, in cases where there is a possible misapplication of EU law. If, after examining a person's request for advice, CSS thinks that you may need further help in solving a problem with the national administration in question, they will transfer the case from CSS to SOLVIT and inform the person accordingly.

    The European Library is a portal which offers access to the combined resources (books, magazines and journals, posters and images, music, manuscripts and many other resources, both digital and non-digital) of the 48 national libraries of Europe. There is a vast virtual collection of material from all disciplines. It says "Users can cross-search and reuse over 21,430,173 digital items and 127,457,384 bibliographic records." It offers free searching and delivers digital objects - some free, some priced. It is not specifically a legal library although there are some legal collections within it. The European Library was initially set up as an EU project but it is now owned by the Conference of European Librarians (CENL), and financially supported by the participating libraries.

    The European Documentation Centre at the University of Mannheim is a major site which is part of an extensive information network which was created on a global level by the European Communities in the early sixties. The site provides all kinds of information on the European Union including treaties and current legislation and decisions. Many of the links go straight to the Europa site but it seems to be a different way of viewing the data.

    Legislationline is a free online service provided by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It compiles international texts and domestic legislation in the OSCE region (55 countries located in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Europe and North America) dealing with the rule of law and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. This is a particularly useful site for finding out about the legal and political structure of Eastern European countries less well known to UK lawyers. A free email newsletter is available, providing information on the latest legal developments throughout the OSCE region along with new additions to the site. The site is available in English and in Russian.

    ELIXIR (European Lawyers' Information eXchange & Internet Resource) is a project based at The University of Birmingham Law School. This includes material provided by Dr Julian Lonbay on the different legal systems in all the EU countries, including training requirements, and an introduction to the EC Law on Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications in EU countries. Information on notaries and bailiffs is now also included.

    European Commission's Intellectual Property Rights Helpdesk is a free site highlighting the importance of IPR protection and exploitation in the European context. There are a number of self-run tutorials on IPR and related subjects which can be downloaded, comprehensive news from across the EU on IP topics, FAQ's and forms. Most of the site is in 6 languges. It says "Our Helpline service provides tailor-made advice on your specific IP or IPR query – customized, straight-forwardly, comprehensibly and free of charge. Get in touch with our team of experienced lawyers via registration on our website, phone or fax and receive a qualified answer or examination of your personal IP issue within three working days."



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