Judicial independence in Poland and Hungary – Going, Going, Gone? Preliminary Requests and Disciplinary Procedures – A shocking development

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 by José Igreja Matos, President of the European Association of Judges

1. Stating the obvious

The reference for a preliminary ruling, provided for Article 19(3)(b) of the Treaty on European Union and Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is an essential instrument for the European Union and, in particular, for national judges.

It is aimed to guarantee the uniform interpretation and application of EU law by offering to the courts and tribunals of Member States a procedure to acquire from the Court of Justice of the European Union a preliminary ruling concerning the interpretation of EU law or the validity of acts adopted by the institutions of the Union.

As easily predictable, the impact of a preliminary ruling procedure in EU legal system is immense also because the rulings of European Court of Justice (ECJ) are assumed as generally binding.

The ECJ itself does not have a power to enforce the accurate application of EU law; this is the reason why national courts or tribunals are obliged to bring the matters in question before the Court as frontrunners of the application of EU law.

The reference for a preliminary ruling is the only way for the national judges to directly convey with ECJ. This procedure helps the ECJ control on how the national courts apply EU law providing the uniformity and certainty essentials to the success of our Union.

Another aspect of major significance could be furthermore underlined: the preliminary ruling also ensures the protection of the rights of individuals. EU laws, in particular the criminal law, fall to be interpreted in accordance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Article 6(1) of the Treaty of European Union affirms: “The Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union … which shall have the same legal value as the Treaties”. In general terms, the Charter applies to Member States when they implement Union law (Case C-292/97 Karlsson and Others); therefore, the interpretation of the Charter provisions tends to be, if not now, in the foreseeable future, a fertile ground for the use of the preliminary ruling procedures.

The Member States are bound to respect fundamental rights in judicial cooperation, for instance, if a Member State is extraditing someone to another Member State in accordance with the scheme established by the European Arrest Warrant Framework Decision.
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Summaries of judgments

 

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judges and référendaire of the General Court (Maria José Costeira, Ricardo Silva Passos and Esperança Mealha)
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Judgments of the General Court (Fifth Chamber) of the 12th of July 2019, 
T-762/15, T-763/15, T-772/15, T-1/16 and T-8/16

Competition – Agreements, decisions and concerted practices –  Market for optical disk drives – Decision finding an infringement of Article 101 TFEU and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement – Collusive agreements relating to bidding events concerning optical disk drives for notebook and desktop computers – Infringement by object – Essential procedural requirements and rights of the defence – Jurisdiction of the Commission –  Obligation to state reasons – Unlimited jurisdiction – Principle of good administration – Fines – Geographic scope of the infringement – Single and continuous infringement – 2006 Guidelines on the method of setting fines – Particular circumstances – Error of law

1 – Facts

On 21 October 2015, the European Commission adopted the Decision C(2015) 7135 final, relating to a proceeding under Article 101 TFEU and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement (Case AT.39639 – Optical Disk Drives, hereinafter “ODDs”) and, more specifically, to collusive agreements relating to bidding events concerning ODDs for computers organised by two computer manufacturers. Eight ODDs suppliers were covered by this decision, which imposes fines totaling EUR 16 million.

ODDs are used in computers produced by Dell and Hewlett Packard, the two main worldwide manufacturers in the market.

According to the Commission, between June 2004 and November 2008, the suppliers Philips, Lite-On, Philips & Lite-On Digital Solutions (their joint venture), Hitachi-LG, Data Storage, Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology, Sony, Sony Optiarc and Quanta Storage coordinated their behaviour in procurement tenders organised by the two computer manufacturers referred to above. During that period, they exchanged commercially sensitive information, communicated to each other their bidding strategies, and shared the results of procurement tenders.
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Editorial of November 2019

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 by Allan F. Tatham, Professor at Facultad de Derecho, Universidad San Pablo CEU


“Does Britain have a great future behind it?”: The stress of Brexit on a (Dis)United Kingdom

Introduction

Whatever the results of the British general election on 12 December 2019, Brexit will have major implications for the populations and governance arrangements of the four nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and their continuing membership of the United Kingdom (UK). The present author has already discussed the constitutional implications of a vote to leave the European Union (EU).[i] This discussion instead will briefly highlight how the results of that referendum and the ensuing three years or so have increasingly led two of the smaller “devolved” nations (England makes up over 85% of the UK’s total population of some 66.5 million people) to reassess their position in the UK.

The Brexit referendum itself of June 2016 revealed both inter-nation and intra-nation division. According to the figures,[ii] majorities in England and Wales voted to leave, while most voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland (as well as Gibraltar) opted for remain. Yet even these results are more nuanced than first appear: London also voted to remain as did some other cities (e.g., Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle) though by differing margins. Moreover recent research[iii] has shown that in Wales, areas with predominantly Welsh-speakers had voted to remain (as did Cardiff) while many of the 21% English-born voters had voted leave. The picture in Northern Ireland was no less complex: there, the nationalist community voted overwhelmingly for remain, while the unionist community voted largely (though much less decisively) for leave.

Northern Ireland

Of the four nations, this is the one most directly affected by Brexit since it will be the only part of the UK with an external border with the EU (Ireland). It is also the only devolved nation, according to the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Peace Agreement, that has in effect the legal right to secede from the UK, once a referendum has been held. In fact the most intractable issue in the Brexit negotiations has proved to be finding a solution to the Northern Irish trilemma: fulfilling the UK Government’s promise to leave the EU customs union and single market; to preserve British “territorial integrity”; and to continue its commitment to the peace agreement. However, leaving the customs union and single market would have meant the re-imposition a hard (or physical) border between the North and the South of the island of Ireland, entailing checks and customs duties: this represented for all parties a direct threat to the peace agreements. A way forward out of this trilemma was needed in order to avoid (or at least minimise) the immense social and economic dislocation implicit in a no-deal Brexit; this presented the negotiators with an immense task.
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Digital public services in the European Union: eHealth through the lens of administrative interoperability

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 by Joana Abreu, Editor and Jean Monnet Module eUjust Coordinator


Digital Single Market appears as the common good to be achieved, in the political level, in the European Union which was also embraced by all its Member States, since national and European political agents understood new ICT tools changed the way the world works and how people relate to each other. Furthermore, its establishment allowed overcoming gaps that were appearing between national efforts on digitalization of their internal sectors, particularly when there was a need to make those sectors transnational, by connecting them in a cross-border dimension.

The path to make European efforts on digital domains more effective was to firstly modernise public services, by resorting to ICT tools – that would make them, and especially their relations with individuals, simpler and more flexible. Digitalization of public services was, then, approached through the lens of interoperability – method adopted in order to link national administrations amongst themselves and with European institutions.

Interoperability was proclaimed in the ISA2 Programme through article 1 (1) of the Decision 2015/2240: “[t]his Decision establishes, for 2016-2020, a programme on interoperability solutions and common frameworks for European public administrations, businesses and citizens (‘the ISA2 programme’)”. In this sense, a new paramount was born: the one of e-Government.

In order to meet e-Government goals, European and national agents have made particular efforts to develop other secondary public interests, that would rely on Public Administrations to concretize, implement and regulate them.

eHealth was one of them.
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Regulating liability for AI within the EU: Short introductory considerations

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 by Francisco Andrade, Director of the Master's in Law and Informatics at UMinho
 and Tiago Cabral, Master's student in EU Law at UMinho

1. The development of Artificial Intelligence (hereinafter, “AI”) brings with it a whole new set of legal questions and challenges. AI will be able to act in an autonomous manner, and electronic “agents” will be, evidently, capable of creating changes in the legal position of natural and legal persons and even of infringing their rights. One notable example of this phenomena will be in data protection and privacy, where a data processing operation by a software agent may be biased against a specific data subject (eventually due to a faulty dataset, but also due to changes in the knowledge database of the “agent” under the influence of users or of other software agents ) and, thus, infringe the principles of lawfulness and fairness in data protection, but due to difficulties in auditing the decision one may never find why (or even find that there was a bias). More extreme examples can be arranged if we put software agents or robots in charge of matters such as making (or even assisting) decisions in court or questions related to the military.

2. One does not have to seek such extreme examples, in fact, even in entering into an agreement, a software agent may, by infringing the law, negatively affect the legal position of a person.
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Summaries of judgments

 

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judge and référendaires of the CJEU (Nuno Piçarra, Mariana Tavares and Sophie Perez)
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Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) 24 June 2019, Commission V Poland, (Case C- 619/18, EU:C:2019:531)

Failure of a Member State to fulfil obligations — Second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU — Rule of law — Effective judicial protection in the fields covered by Union law — Principles of the irremovability of judges and judicial independence — Lowering of the retirement age of Supreme Court judges — Application to judges in post — Possibility of continuing to carry out the duties of judge beyond that age subject to obtaining authorisation granted by discretionary decision of the President of the Republic.

Facts

On 3 April 2018, the new Polish Law on the Supreme Court (‘the Law on the Supreme Court’) entered into force. Under that law, the retirement age for Supreme Court judges was lowered to 65. The new age limit applied as from the date of entry into force of that law, and included judges of that court appointed before that date. It was possible for Supreme Court judges to continue in active judicial service beyond the age of 65 but this was subject to the submission of a declaration indicating the desire of the judge concerned to continue to carry out his duties and a certificate stating that his health allowed him to serve, and had to be authorised by the President of the Republic of Poland. In granting that authorisation, the President of the Republic of Poland would not be bound by any criterion and his decision would not be subject to any form of judicial review.
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From Visual Arts to Virtual Arts – some insights about Law, Art & Technology

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 by Marcílio Franca, Professor at the Federal University of Paraíba, Brazil

Leonardo Da Vinci’s life and work show us that innovation and technology have always been close to art and artists. Over the past few decades, however, deep technological innovations are modifying art in strange, new ways. The development and access to new technologies have radically changed not only the ways of producing art but also the ways of consuming, preserving, collecting and restoring art nowadays. Obviously, all this has complex legal repercussions.

Right at the University of Minho, for example, the researcher and multimedia artist João Martinho Moura is a world reference in digital art and computational aesthetics. For the past 15 years, he has been adopting new digital ways to represent audiovisual artifacts, with special interest in the human body. Some of his award-winning works can be seen at  http://jmartinho.net/. Light art, lasers, AI created art, artist robots, e-museums are also good examples the ways in which technology is making its impact in the art world and in the legal systems.

The complexity of authorship and the relevance of the dematerialization of artwork in the field of contemporary visual arts have already secured the birth of at least three Digital Art Biennials. The older is “The Wrong Art Biennale” (https://thewrong.org), a global, digital event aiming to create, promote and push forward-thinking contemporary digital art among artists, curators, collectors and institutions located in virtual pavilions. There is also the International Digital Art Biennial (BIAN), in Montréal, created in 2012. The younger Digital Art Biennial will happen in Brazil for the first time in 2020, but was born ten years ago in Belo Horizonte, as a Digital Art Festival.
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Editorial of October 2019

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 by Tamara Álvarez Robles, Lecturer at the University of Vigo


On the reform of national law on data protection: the special incorporation of digital rights in Spain

The reform of the Spanish Organic Law on Data Protection (LO 3/2018), to adapt it to the General Regulation of Data Protection has introduced together with the European requirements a catalogue of digital rights. Title X “Guarantee of digital rights” has meant, undoubtedly one of the biggest novelties to data protection regulations. It is composed of a set of Articles, from 79 to 97, which present, for the first time in the Spanish national legislative sphere, the new generation of digital rights[i], inter alia, right to Internet neutrality, right to digital security, right to digital education, protection of minors on the Internet, right to rectification on the Internet, right to privacy and use of digital devices in the workplace, right to digital disconnection in the workplace, right to digital testament.

The inclusion in-extremis of the present Title X, of digital rights, through amendment of the Congress of Deputies dated April 18, 2018, responds to the fundamental importance, to the ever-present and dominating reality of the Internet, which reaches all spheres of our lives. That is why, Organic Law 3/2018 in section IV of the Preamble already points to the involvement of public authorities through the provision of public policies (Article 9.2 SC) in order to make effective the catalogue of digital rights based on the Principle of Equality (Article 14 SC), stating that: “it is the responsibility of the public authorities to promote policies that make effective the rights of citizens on the Internet, promoting the equality of citizens and the groups in which they are integrated in order to possible the full exercise of fundamental rights in the digital reality”.
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Robots and civil liability (ongoing work within the EU)

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 by Susana Navas Navarro, Professor of Civil Law, Autonomous University of Barcelona

The broad interest shown by the European Union (EU) for the regulation of different aspects of robotics and artificial intelligence is nowadays very well known.[i] One of those aspects concerns the lines of thinking that I am interested in: civil liability for the use and handling of robots. Thus, in the first instance, it should be determined what is understood by “robot” for the communitarian institutions. In order to be considered as “robot”, an entity should meet the following conditions: i) acquisition of autonomy via sensors or exchanging data with the environment (interconnectivity), as well as the processing and analysis of this data; ii) capacity to learn from experience and also through interaction with other robots; iii) a minimal physical medium to distinguish them from a “virtual” robot; iv) adaptation of its behaviour and actions to the environment; v) absence of biological life. This leads to three basic categories of “smart robots”: 1) cyber-physical systems; 2) autonomous systems; 3) smart autonomous robots.[ii] Therefore, strictly speaking, a “robot” is an entity which is corporeal and, as an essential part of it, may or may not incorporate a system of artificial intelligence (embodied AI).

The concept of “robot” falls within the definition of AI, which is specified, on the basis of what scholars of computer science have advised, as: “Artificial intelligence (AI) systems are software (and possibly also hardware) systems designed by humans that, given a complex goal, act in the physical or digital dimension by perceiving their environment through data acquisition, interpreting the collected structured or unstructured data, reasoning on the knowledge, or processing the information, derived from this data and deciding the best action(s) to take to achieve the given goal. AI systems can either use symbolic rules or learn a numeric model, and they can also adapt their behaviour by analysing how the environment is affected by their previous actions. 
As a scientific discipline, AI includes several approaches and techniques, such as machine learning (of which deep learning and reinforcement learning are specific examples), machine reasoning (which includes planning, scheduling, knowledge representation and reasoning, search, and optimization), and robotics (which includes control, perception, sensors and actuators, as well as the integration of all other techniques into cyber-physical systems”.[iii]

Concerning the robot as a corporeal entity, issues related to civil liability are raised from a twofold perspective: firstly, in relation to the owner of a robot in the case of causation of damages to third parties when there is no legal relationship between them; and, secondly, regarding the damages that the robot may be caused to third parties due to its defects. From a legal standpoint, it should be noted that in most cases the “robot” is considered as “movable good” that, furthermore, may be classified as a “product”. We shall focus on each of these perspectives separately.
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Summaries of judgments

 

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judges and référendaire of the General Court (Maria José Costeira, Ricardo Silva Passos and Esperança Mealha)
 ▪


Judgment of the General Court (Ninth Chamber, Extended Composition), T
307/17 – Adidas Ag / Euipo (Three Parallel Stripes), 19 June 2019

EU trade mark — Invalidity proceedings — EU figurative mark representing three parallel stripes — Absolute grounds for invalidity — No distinctive character acquired through use — Article 7(3) and Article 52(2) of Regulation (EC) No 207/2009 (now Article 7(3) and Article 59(2) of Regulation (EU) 2017/1001) — Form of use unable to be taken into account — Form that differs from the form under which the mark has been registered by significant variations — Inversion of the colour scheme

Link: http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf;jsessionid=7B33A741BDC26F1AC10417E8B24C5012?text=&docid=215208&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=3595544

1. Facts

In 2014, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) registered, in favour of adidas, the following EU trade mark for clothing, footwear and headgear:

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In its application for registration, adidas had described the mark as consisting of three parallel equidistant stripes of identical width, applied on the product in any direction.

In 2016, following an application for declaration of invalidity filed by the Belgian undertaking Shoe Branding Europe BVBA, EUIPO annulled the registration of that mark on the ground that it was devoid of any distinctive character, both inherent and acquired through use. According to EUIPO, the mark should not have been registered. In particular, adidas had failed to establish that the mark had acquired distinctive character through use throughout the EU.

2. Decision

The General Court (GC) upholds the annulment decision, dismissing the action brought by adidas against the EUIPO decision.

The GC notes that the mark is not a pattern mark composed of a series of regularly repetitive elements, but an ordinary figurative mark, and that the forms of use which fail to respect the other essential characteristics of the mark, such as its colour scheme (black stripes against white background), cannot be taken into account. Therefore, EUIPO was correct to dismiss numerous pieces of evidence produced by adidas on the ground that they concern other signs, such as, in particular, signs for which the colour scheme had been reversed.
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