Each EU member state is responsible for implementing community law within its own legal system. Under the treaties, the commission is responsible for ensuring that community law is correctly applied. Consequently, where a member state fails to comply with community law, the commission has powers to try to bring the infringement to an end and, if necessary, may refer the case to the European Court of Justice. The commission takes whatever action it deems appropriate in response to either a complaint or indications of infringements that it has detected.
Non-compliance means failure by a member state to fulfil its obligations under community law, whether by action or omission. Anyone may lodge a complaint with the commission against a member state about any measure (law, regulation or administrative action) or practice that they consider incompatible with a provision or a principle of community law. However, it should be noted that any findings of infringements by the European Court of Justice will not resolve individual cases. It merely obliges the member state to comply with community law. More specifically, any individual claims for damages would have to be brought by complainants before national courts.
Article 234 of the EC Treaty provides a mechanism for the courts of EU member states to obtain definitive answers to certain questions of community law by referring a question to the European Court of Justice. The purpose of Article 234 is to ensure that the community law is applied uniformly throughout the community. Paragraph three of the said article provides the obligation to refer the question of community law to the European Court of Justice for such courts or tribunals of a member state against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy under national law. The same provisions are found in Article 3 of the Civil Procedure Code of the Republic of Lithuania.
Regarding the above-mentioned provisions, in July 2006 a bailiff in Klaipeda, Lithuania's port city, lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court of Lithuania asking to reverse the rulings of lower courts. The subject of the appeal was the bailiffs' right to value-added tax. Since the substance of the appeal was related to the interpretation and application of community law on value-added tax issues, a separate request to refer the issue to the European Court of Justice has been submitted to the Supreme Court of Lithuania.
This was the first time in the history of the Supreme Court of Lithuania when this court received a request to apply to the European Court of Justice for an explanation of community law. In December 2006 the Supreme Court of Lithuania passed a ruling to reject the appeal. However, the request to refer to the European Court of Justice was simply ignored.
Paragraph three, Article 234 of EC Treaty sets an obligation to the Supreme Court of Lithuania to refer to the European Court of Justice issues related to interpretation and application of community law, as the Supreme Court of Lithuania is the highest judicial authority in Lithuania, and there is no judicial remedy against its decisions. An infringement of community law by the Supreme Court of Lithuania means a non-compliance by the Republic of Lithuania with community law.
In order to remind all Lithuanian institutions that community law should be applied and not ignored, a complaint with the European Commission involving the above-described omission by the Supreme Court of Lithuania has been submitted. In February 2007 the complaint was registered with the European Commission 's meaning an investigation into the case has been initiated. Lithuanian legal society is now waiting for the European Commission's decision, which is pertinent not only for the bailiff who initiated the proceedings but for all bailiffs in Lithuania.
Jurgita Lingiene is an advocate at Jurevicius Balciunas & Bartkus, a member of Baltic Legal Solutions, a pan-Baltic integrated legal network of law firms including Teder Glikman & Partnerid in Estonia and Kronbergs Cukste in Latvia, dedicated to providing a quality "one-stop shop" approach to clients' needs in the Baltics.