Public bodies can rely on EU law, court rules

Court of Justice of European Union rules on referral from Supreme Court in equality case

It has been ruled that public bodies such as the Workplace Relations Commission must have the jurisdiction not to apply a rule of Irish national law that is contrary to EU law.

It has been ruled that public bodies such as the Workplace Relations Commission must have the jurisdiction not to apply a rule of Irish national law that is contrary to EU law.

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Public bodies such as the Workplace Relations Commission must have the jurisdiction not to apply a rule of Irish national law that is contrary to EU law, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled.

The judgment is seen as significant as it will impact on all public bodies in the State that have a role in the enforcement of EU law in a particular area.

The court issued judgment on Tuesday in a case referred to it by the Supreme Court. It concerned a challenge by three people who were excluded from An Garda Síochána’s recruitment procedure as they were above the maximum age for recruitment laid down in Garda regulations.

Richard Boyle and two others brought complaints before the Equality Tribunal, now subsumed into the Workplace Relations Commission, claiming this conflicted with their rights under EU equality law.

They submitted that the setting of a maximum age for recruitment to the national police force constituted discrimination prohibited both by an EU directive and by the provisions of Irish law transposing that directive.

The Minister for Justice pleaded that the Equality Tribunal lacked jurisdiction on the ground that the measure which imposed the maximum age for recruitment to An Garda Síochána was a measure of national law, meaning that only courts established under the Constitution had jurisdiction to decide, if necessary, to disapply such a provision.

Jurisdictional issue

However, the Equality Tribunal decided it would proceed to consider the complaints, stating that it would, as part of that process, consider and decide the jurisdictional issue raised by the Minister.

The Minister brought an action before the High Court, which upheld the Minister’s action. It made an order prohibiting the Equality Tribunal from ruling on the complaints of Mr Boyle and the two other complainants.

The High Court said the Equality Tribunal lacked jurisdiction to decide that national law was incompatible with EU law. It said that power was expressly reserved to the High Court under article 34 of the Constitution.

The Equality Tribunal appealed against that order to the Supreme Court, which referred the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union in June 2017. The CJEU heard the case on June 5th last.

It ruled on Tuesday that the primacy of EU law over national law meant that national legislation could not put a public body tasked with enforcing EU law in a position where it lacked the jurisdiction to “disapply a rule of national law that is contrary to EU law”.

The case will now return to the Irish Supreme Court.

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