The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has found that all Member State bodies have the authority to give primacy to EU law where there is a conflict with national law.
This case involved three men who made applications to join An Garda Síochána but were rejected in accordance with An Garda Síochána (Admission and Appointments) Regulations 1988, which state that any candidates applying must be aged 35 or under.
Complaints were lodged with the Equality Tribunal, now the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), on the basis that such a requirement was in breach of the Employment Equality Act 1998, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of age, and Directive 2000/78 on equal treatment in employment. The men were represented by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, which argued that in order to provide an effective remedy where issues of discrimination are raised under equality legislation, the WRC must have the authority under EU law to disapply national law where it conflicts with EU laws.
The Tribunal sought to proceed to hear the complaint, including the jurisdictional issue, but the Minister for Justice brought an action before the High Court challenging the authority of the Tribunal to consider the disapplication of the Garda Regulations for conflicting with EU equality law.
The High Court found that the Equality Tribunal did not in fact have the authority to declare inconsistency between national and European law, stating such powers were conferred only upon the High Court by the Constitution. This was appealed to the Supreme Court which referred the matter to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling.
In the CJEU’s decision, it was acknowledged that the Equality Tribunal/Workplace Relations Commission was a body established by the Irish legislature to ensure the enforcement of the Directive and the Employment Equality Act.
Taking this into account, the CJEU observed that if a body set up for the purpose of administering EU law has before it a dispute, that body has the power to provide legal protection to the rights of persons derived from said law. In this instance, the WRC has the duty of enforcing the principles of non-discrimination in employment as per the Employment Equality Framework Directive, and as such has the power to protect rights stemming from this Directive.
Therefore, the WRC has the authority to disapply any national legislation that may contravene with rights conferred by EU law as, otherwise, this would prevent the effective application of EU law. The Court held that this power lies not only with national courts of Member States, but with all organs of the State.
Click here for the CJEU judgement.