In a judgment of November 26, 2013, the Court of Justice of the European Union (the CJEU) confirmed that a claim for damages seeking compensation for the damage caused by excessively lengthy proceedings before the General Court of the European Union (the General Court) must be brought before the General Court itself.
On the substance of the issue, the judgment sends a positive signal, given that complaints regarding the excessive length of proceedings before the General Court have often been rejected by the CJEU, always ready to emphasize the complexity of competition cases in order to dismiss claims made by undertakings for indemnification on such grounds.
In the specific case under review, the CJEU ruled that the proceedings before the General Court violated the right of the parties to have their case dealt within a reasonable time as guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, holding that the length of the proceedings before the General Court (almost five years and nine months) could not be justified by the complexity of the case, the behaviour of the parties or the specific features of the procedure.
From a procedural point of view, however, the CJEU’s holding that actions seeking compensation for failure by the General Court to act within a reasonable time must be brought before the General Court itself (composed of different judges) is perplexing.
It can certainly be questioned whether the obligation to bring a new action generating additional costs for companies – and significantly delaying their compensation even further – constitutes, as the CJEU maintains, an ‘effective remedy’ within the meaning of the Charter of Fundamental rights. In this case, the CJEU’s decision is all the more regrettable that, in the previous Baustahlgewebe case, it took the opposite position and agreed to reduce the fine imposed on companies that were victims of excessively lengthy proceedings to ensure procedural economy and an immediate and effective remedy.
While companies are still well advised to raise the excessive length of the procedure before the General Court in their appeal (to allow the CJEU to decide on this point), they will have to arm themselves with patience before obtaining any compensation on this basis. In this respect, it is to be hoped that the ongoing reform of the EU Courts, which should increase the numbers of judges sitting in the General Court, will be quickly implemented, so as to speed up proceedings.