From the Reference Desk: Is There An Annotated European Union Code?

By Amy Flick

“Is there an annotated European Union Code? I have an EU directive, and I need to find some cases that interpret it.”

First, having just taught a class on U.S. statutory legal research, I’m thrilled that a student thought to use an annotated code to find cases interpreting legislation.

There isn’t a European Union code, not exactly. But the European Union does have a classification system for its law, and there are sources for finding cases on a particular EU directive, from the European Court of Justice and from national courts.

The student was looking for cases on Directive 98/44/EC on patents for biotechnological inventions.

Although European Union law isn’t codified, the closest thing to a codification would be the Directory of Legal Acts on EUR-Lex. It arranges EU legislation in force by subject and includes consolidated acts incorporating amendments. Directive 98/44/EC is classified with Intellectual Property legislation at 17.20, but with a general heading at 17 of “Law relating to Undertakings,” I’m not sure I would have found it without already having found the Directory Classification. There is also the EuroVoc thesaurus for browsing legislation (and caselaw) by subject. Either the thesaurus terms or the Directory codes can be used in the EUR-Lex Advanced Search, along with text and other criteria (including type of legislation). In this case, a text search for “biotechnology AND patents” worked just as well.

The student already had the citation for Directive 98/44/EC, but I recommended that he look at the Directorate-General on Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs. The European Commission’s executive agencies are a great source for finding current legislation that they administer, with links to EUR-Lex. The DG’s page on Protection of Biotechnological Inventions includes the Biotech Directive with a summary, reports, and related documents, plus a State of Play of the Implementation of Directive 98/44/EC that has dates and citations for national legislation implementing the directive.

Summaries of EU Legislation on EUR-Lex are also a good way to find legislation by subject, including by general topic or to search. Again, a search for “biotechnology and patents” retrieved the summary for Directive 98/44/EC.

With a directive citation in hand, my student can find cases interpreting the directive. The EUR-Lex Document Information for the directive includes a “Relationship between documents” section that has links to Court of Justice judgments as published in the Official Journal of the European Communities.

The European Court of Justice’s CURIA site has an advanced search page with a field for “references to case law or legislation,” including directives by number. It even allows searching for pinpoint references to paragraphs within the directive.

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Since directives require that EU member states implement them with national legislation, there are also national laws and cases in national courts on the directive.

Once a directive is found in EUR-Lex, the links in the left navigational side bar include “National Transposition.” These National Transpositions by Member State provide the citations to each member state’s implementing laws for the directive. He could also use EUR-Lex’s Advanced Search Form. Choose National Transposition as the collection and search by directive number (1998 and 44).

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For this particular directive, that “State of Play” from the Directorate-General cites national implementing legislation. If a Google search doesn’t retrieve the cited legislation, the student could use the Foreign Law Guide database or the Law Library of Congress’ Guide to Law Online to find sources for national legislation.  There’s also the European Union’s N-Lex gateway to search for national legislation in N-Lex with the directive citation.

Back to looking for cases interpreting the directive, the EUR-Lex advanced search can be used to search national caselaw as well. He could use the same EUR-Lex Advanced Search Form, choose National Case Law as the collection, and enter the directive number in the Instruments Cited field.

The European Union’s Association of the Councils of State and Supreme Administrative Jurisdictions has its own Dec.Nat. database for searching national decisions on European Union law. The search page includes a field for Provision of European Union Law for searching by directive number, or other EU legislation. The results list includes country, date, title of the case, and parties, with case details including a citation to the national law and link to related ECJ judgements.

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So, the European Union doesn’t have annotated code, not is there an “EU Code.” But it does have subject resources for finding legislation. And it offers multiple ways through EUR-Lex and other EU databases to find cases that interpret an EU directive, and national legislation implementing the directive.

And my thanks to Alison Shea for sharing her European Union expertise!

2 responses to “From the Reference Desk: Is There An Annotated European Union Code?

  1. Hi Amy, thanks for this great post! You encouraged me to try a little experiment. I discovered that EU directives are included in the Beck-Online database, in its legislation library. The format for searching for directives in this database is this: EWG_RL_98_44. This database has a citator that includes judicial decisions from the European Court of Justice, and the citator service is available down to the article level for directives. I realize that this database is hard to navigate for non-German speakers; however, this would be another option for getting citations to ECJ case law that is related to EU directives, which one can then go and track down in English. This leads me to think that databases in other European jurisdictions might also have this kind of service. Anyway, I definitely will try this if I get a question like this in the future!

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  2. I have always been amazed by the citator tools available in EUR-Lex that we have to pay Westlaw and Lexis for to conduct our American research. While not available for legislative acts, under ECJ decisions the Document Information tab includes such annotations as “Notes relating to the decision” which are cites to journals that discuss the case.

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