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First referral to ECJ

For the first time since Malta joined the European Union, a Maltese court has referred a case to the European Court of Justice in order to obtain guidance on how to interpret EU legislation.

The case involves an application made by ADJ Tuna Ltd, owners of Azzopardi Fisheries and various tuna fattening ranches in Malta, against the Director of Fisheries over a decision made by the European Commission last year to end abruptly the bluefin tuna fishing season.

The European Commission had made the decision following information that the yearly tuna quotas had been overshot by EU fishermen. Maltese tuna ranchers protested, claiming they suffered huge commercial losses as a result. ADJ Tuna had instituted court proceedings against the Commission but also resorted to the Maltese courts.

In dealing with the case, the court in Malta has put a set of 10 technical questions to the ECJ, asking for guidance on the interpretation of EU law before it can deliver judgment. The main questions have to do with the validity of the regulations issued by the Commission to close the tuna fishery of 2008. An ECJ spokesman said yesterday that since Malta joined the EU there had been 10 infringement cases against Malta dealt by the ECJ but the Maltese court had never asked for a ruling on a case before it.

According to EU rules, the ECJ has the jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings on the interpretation and validity of EU treaties or of acts of the EU institutions and the European Central Bank.

"The ECJ responds to the questions posed by the national court and it is then up to the national court to apply the ECJ ruling to the case before it."

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