• In the criminal case of Case C-614/14 Ognyanov [5 July 2016], ECLI:EU:C:2016:514, the scope of uniform application and interpretation of Community law was challenged. A national court cannot be automatically disqualified after referring questions for a preliminary ruling – knowledge of factual and legal context is significant.

Facts of Case C-614/14 Ognyanov [5 July 2016], ECLI:EU:C:2016:514

  • Bulgarian national, Ognyanov, was convicted of murder and aggravated theft by the Denmark court; after serving part of the 15-year sentence, he was handed to the Bulgarian authorities to serve the remainder
  • Preliminary reference was made by the Bulgarian City Court on the interpretation of an EU Directive on the application of mutual recognition to judgments in criminal proceedings imposing sentences or measures including deprivation of liberty
  • After lodging, the Bulgarian Prosecutor requested for those panel of judges to be disqualified, as per the national rule, stating the court had begun expressing provisional opinion on the present case by setting out the factual and legal context before deliberations began
  • The court had done so in compliance with the European Rules of Procedure, Article 94, which requires those requesting the preliminary reference to include the factual and legal context of the case
  • In response, the Bulgarian Court requested a preliminary ruling addressed the legality of the national law that disqualified a panel based on such

Issues in Case C-614/14 Ognyanov [5 July 2016], ECLI:EU:C:2016:514

  • Was national law correct in disqualifying judges after they had requested a preliminary ruling, allowing them to see the factual and legal context of the case when they requested such?
  • Or is the national law precluded by Community law here?

Held by the European Court of Justice

  • There was no breach present, the national court was allowed to request a preliminary ruling. Bulgarian law is precluded by Community law, specifically Article 267 TFEU and Article 94 of the Rules of Procedure here.

Findings of the Court

Article 267 TFEU:

  • “In accordance with settled case-law, the procedure provided for by Article 267 TFEU is an instrument of cooperation between the Court of Justice and national courts and tribunals, by means of which the former provides the latter with interpretation of such EU law as is necessary for them to give judgment in cases upon which they are called to adjudicate” [16]

Factual and legal context is a necessity for the ECJ as it will help provide the national court with an interpretation of EU law and answers to the questions they provide. [18]

  • Further, “if the relevant factual and legal context is not stated, that may constitute a ground for the request for a preliminary ruling to be declared to be manifestly inadmissible” [21]

Article 267 and Article 94, as per Article 47 and 48 of the Charter, “must be interpreted as precluding a national rule which is interpreted in such a way as to oblige a referring court to disqualify itself from a pending case, on the ground that it set out, in its request for a preliminary ruling, the factual and legal context of that case” [26]

It “is deemed to be contrary to EU law” that a judge, or a panel of, will be threatened with disqualification from a case if there were to ask for a preliminary ruling. [37]