On 14 February 2023, an amendment to the Rules of Procedure of the General Court of the EU (»the Rules of Procedure«) was published in the Official Journal of the EU to promote a modern and efficient General Court. The amendments to the Rules of Procedure entered into force on 1 April 2023 and the most notable changes include the possibility of videoconferencing at hearings, the promotion of proactive case management, and the rules on the protection of personal data of parties as natural persons. The solutions for the amendments to the Rules of Procedure are set out in more detail in the amendment to the Practical Provisions for the Implementation of the Rules of Procedure of the General Court, published on 10 March 2023.
The General Court is introducing the possibility of using videoconferencing at hearings by adopting a legal and technical framework for this area. Videoconferencing has proved to be an essential tool in ensuring the continuity of judicial activity during the health crisis. A request for participation by videoconference by a representative who is physically unable to attend the hearing must be justified on medical, security or other serious grounds and must be made as soon as the reason for the detention is known.
The General Court launched the electronic signature of its judgments and orders in March 2022. The Practical Provisions for the Implementation of the Rules of Procedure lay down detailed rules on the qualified electronic signature of its decisions and the permanent and secure storage of the electronic originals of these documents.
Proactive and efficient case management
The amendments to the Rules of Procedure encourage the General Court to manage its cases proactively. For example, following the amendments introduced, the Registrar does not need to be requested by a Judge, the Advocate General or a party to proceedings to translate procedural documents into the language of the case and, where necessary, into another language, but can do so himself. The Registrar shall also ensure that what is said at the hearing is interpreted.
A lawyer representing or assisting a party does not need to produce a certificate of entitlement to represent before the courts of a Member State if such document has already been submitted when opening an account on the e-Curia portal of the CJEU.
Pilot cases and joint hearing
The Rules of Procedure has set out the concept of »Pilot case«. Where, in the course of a number of cases pending before the General Court in which the same question of law is raised and it is in the interests of the efficient exercise of judicial power to avoid parallel proceedings in those cases, one of them – the one most appropriate for the examination of that question – may be designated as a Pilot case and the proceedings in the other cases shall be suspended until the Pilot case has been disposed of. It will be dealt with as a matter of priority, and the parties to the interrupted proceedings will be heard when the proceedings in their cases resume. In view of the large number of cases, the Judgment in the Pilot case will help to decongest and shorten the duration of proceedings before the General Court.
Similarly, the Rules of Procedure will now allow the General Court to hold joint hearings in several cases where there are similarities between them, irrespective of whether the conditions for joinder are met.
The General Court’s amendments to the Rules of Procedure also take account of developments in EU legislation on the protection of the personal data of natural persons. The Rules of Procedure now make a clear distinction between the processing of personal data of natural persons and the processing of non-personal data. During proceedings, the General Court may decide, of its own motion or at the request of a party using a separate application, to omit the names and surnames of natural persons, whether parties or third parties, and any other personal data of those natural persons contained in documents and information relating to the case which is accessible to the public. Similarly, in the course of proceedings, it may, of its own motion or motion by a party using a separate application, decide that information other than personal data of natural persons contained in documents and information which are accessible to the public shall be omitted, provided that there are legitimate reasons justifying the non-disclosure of that information.