The Court of Justice of the European Union (the ECJ) will, for the first time ever, hear a case brought before it in the Irish language. The case is being brought by Peadar Mac Fhlannchadha against the Irish State and the Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine.
An tUasal Mac Fhlannchachadha, and his legal team, argued successfully before the High Court that the state failed in its duty to implement a European Union directive which required the packaging of animal health products to be in the official languages of the state, Irish and English, not English only.
Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh heard the case through Irish in the High Court, where she made a partial judgement in July of this year as she was aware that another directive will come into force in 2022. This new directive will allow the Irish Government to choose between Irish or English for packaging of veterinary medicinal products which would be sold in Ireland.
Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh, who last month was appointed to the Court of Appeal, referred an issue to the ECJ regarding the freedom of courts to exercise judicial discretion where rights deriving from European Union law are concerned.
In common law jurisdictions, like Ireland, judges enjoy more freedom to decide cases based on the law while taking the particular circumstances of the case into account. This is different in civil law jurisdictions, such as France, Italy, or Spain, where the letter of the law is applied strictly.
If the ECJ find there is no scope for judicial discretion, it is likely all packaging of animal health products would be required to be labelled in English and Irish however, if it is found judicial discretion is allowed, the High Court may find that the packaging can be in Irish and English or in English only. Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh in her partial judgement in July did comment that a change to bilingual packaging may be “futile”, hence monolingual packaging may be preferred.
Colm Ó hOisín for the State argued in the High Court that the burden would be too high to translate all the packaging concerned and would lead to negative consequences due to the number of animal health products being manufactured abroad which are sold on the Irish market.
The state’s implementation of Directive 2001/82/CE through EC (Animal Remedies) Regulations 2007-2014 is in question.
A European Union directive is a device where EU member states are required to reach a particular result in law while each state has the freedom to choose how to achieve that result considering their individual legal system. The ECJ sits in Luxembourg and is the highest judicial authority of EU law. It ensures the uniform application and interpretation of EU law throughout the 28 member states.
Gearoid Dardis – Law Writer