Users of legal websites may begin to see a new case identification/neutral citation system appearing as a result of the recent Council of EU decision, designed to facilitate cross-border access to national case law (whether from courts or tribunals). Council conclusions inviting the introduction of the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) and a minimum set of uniform metadata for case law Official Journal C 127 , 29/04/2011 P. 0001 – 0007 However, EU Member States are only ”invited to introduce, on a voluntary basis at the national level” – it is not a mandatory instruction. The Council intends that the Court of Justice of the EU should participate, while candidate countries and Lugano states are also encouraged to join the scheme.
Details of how ECLIs should be constructed are contained in the Annex. The major points are
1. 1. A European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) must consist of the following five components, which must appear in the listed order:
(a) the abbreviation “ECLI”;
(b) the country code for the country under whose competence the judicial decision is rendered. …
(c) the abbreviation for the court or tribunal (hereafter: the court code). The court code:
(i) must have at least one character, and at most seven characters;
(ii) must always begin with a letter, but may also contain digits;
(iii) should be chosen in such a way that it appears logical to people familiar with the organisation of the judiciary of the country concerned; …
(d) the year of the decision, which must be written in four digits;
(e) an ordinal number, which must be unique in the sense that there must not be more than one judgment of the same court within the same year with the same ordinal number. The maximum length of the ordinal number is 25 characters. The ordinal number may contain dots (“.”), but no other punctuation marks.
2. All components are separated by a colon (“:”) …. .”
To support the new system and its effectiveness a special section of the European e-Justice portal is envisaged, containing not just background information (eg. ” lists per country of the abbreviations used for the participating courts and tribunals. Names of the courts should be translated in all languages”) and rules regarding ECLIs but also access to the common search interface, once this has become available.