CILFIT and Lanificio di Gavardo SpA v Ministry of Health [1982]

European Law

CILFIT
‘Lamb of God’ by Francisco de Zurburán

Member State compliance with Community law is brought into question after an Italian national court sought to address their Ministry for Health’s contention that domestic laws precluded a right to claim, and that no regulatory terms could provide a different outcome.

When a claim was made by a number of textile firms against the excessive taxation of imported wool, they relied upon the powers conferred by Regulation 827/68/EEC and not the discriminatory rules set down under the national powers of Law No.30, which had forced companies to pay levies ten times the amount intended prior to a later amendment under Law No.1239.

In the first instance the claimants were denied a right to recover in the Tribunal di Roma (District Court) on grounds that the adoption of Regulation 827/68/EEC had excluded wool, while the Corte d’Appello (Court of Appeal) also rejected the claim before they appealed to the Court of Cassation, whereupon the Ministry of Health cross-appealed in an attempt to persuade the Court to decide the outcome without seeking a preliminary ruling under art.177 EC.

Here the Court interpreted that by virtue of the fact that the Ministry of Health argued against a consultation with the European Court of Justice, there must be a degree of uncertainty as to the effect of Regulation 827/68/EEC, and that while national legislation failed to provide an immediate remedy such a duty nonetheless existed. 

Thus in accordance with its perceived obligations the Court of Cassation asked:

1. Whether under such circumstances para.3 of art.177 EC required the national courts (or courts of first instance) to seek a preliminary ruling where uncertainty or doubt as to the interpretation of a Regulation existed?

Having evaluated the intentions and possible variances of art.177 EC it was agreed by the European Court of Justice that while certain discretions were provided for when adopting and applying the terms of Community law, the obligation to seek a preliminary ruling was one designed to establish clarity. 

This translated that even if the questions arose from claimants, government or the courts themselves, it was important that the courts looked at the complexity of the doubt and sought (where relevant) the assistance of the European Court of Justice in order that the effect of the Regulation or Directive was properly established, while the Court further reminded the parties that:

A uniform interpretation of Community law by the Court is objectively in the public interest, which may not be subordinated to the existence or otherwise of agreement between the national courts in the previous stages of an action or to the assent or dissent of the parties.”

Author: Neil Egan-Ronayne

Author, legal scholar and foodie...

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