C-64/16 Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses [2017]

C-64/16 Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses v Tribunal de Contas [2017], commonly known as the Portuguese judges case, revolved around the reduction of salaries for judges in the Court of Auditors by the Portuguese legislature. The Association of Portuguese judges brought an action for annulment, arguing that the salary reduction violated the principle of judicial independence as enshrined in Article 19 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The Court of Justice ruled that, although the legislation fell within the material scope of Article 19 TEU, it did not violate the principle of judicial independence. The court emphasised that Article 19(1) TEU relates to "the fields covered by Union law," regardless of whether Member States are implementing Union law. The salary reductions, affecting civil servants beyond judges, were deemed temporary and aimed at addressing Portugal's excessive budget deficit. Consequently, the court concluded that these measures could not be considered as impairing judicial independence.

In terms of legal interpretation, the ruling showcased the court's stance on the scope of Article 19 TEU, asserting its relevance even in cases where there is no explicit regulation by EU legislation or the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The court took a broader view of its jurisdiction to regulate the compensation of judges in member states.

The ruling is notable for its potential implications in the context of judicial independence, especially against the backdrop of political challenges faced by judiciaries in some member states, such as Poland. By interpreting Article 19(1) TEU as covering fields related to Union law, the court asserted a form of jurisdiction to review and regulate member state laws that impact judicial independence, even in the absence of specific EU legislation.

This case has been likened to the concept of judicial activism, drawing parallels with the US Supreme Court's practice of reviewing state laws against the US Constitution in the absence of federal legislation. The court's willingness to interpret and apply EU treaty provisions in a manner that extends its reach to member state actions reflects a proactive approach to safeguarding fundamental principles, even in the absence of explicit EU legislation on the matter.
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