Further to our previous update in July 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union earlier this week handed down its eagerly awaited ruling in a decade-long age discrimination case relating to the requirement that new entrants to the Irish police service, An Garda Síochána, be under 35 years of age.
Three individuals brought an age discrimination claim to the Equality Tribunal ("Tribunal") in circumstances where they were refused entry to the Garda Síochána (“the Gardaí”) on the basis that they were over 35.
The Irish regulations applicable to the Gardaí provide for an upper age limit of 35 for new entrants to the Gardaí. In this context, the question arose as to whether the Tribunal had the jurisdiction to disapply a national provision (ie the regulations) on the basis that they were in contravention of EU equality law. The Tribunal was asked to deal with this jurisdictional point as a preliminary issue but refused to do so.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform applied for judicial review in the High Court on the basis that the Tribunal did not have the jurisdiction to make a decision that would be in contravention of Irish law.
The High Court agreed that the Tribunal did not have the jurisdiction to commence a hearing that would result in it assuming jurisdiction to overrule national law.
The Tribunal (now the Workplace Relations Commission (“the WRC”)) appealed this decision to the Supreme Court which considered whether the WRC had the jurisdiction to deal with the matter in the first instance.
The Supreme Court referred a request for preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice of the European Union (“the CJEU”).
The request for a preliminary ruling concerned the question of whether a national body established by law (in this case, the WRC) has the authority to disapply a rule of national law where such rule is contrary to EU law.
The CJEU ruling
Previously, only the High Court could disapply national legislation in favour of EU law. In circumstances where all discrimination claims (other than gender) must be initiated in the WRC, this represented a serious bar to justice for claimants seeking to rely on EU law over national law (where there is a conflict of laws) given the costs associated with high court litigation.
In its ruling delivered this week, the CJEU ruled that statutory bodies such as the WRC must have the authority to disapply national law where it conflicts with EU law in order to provide an effective remedy where issues of discrimination are raised pursuant to equality legislation.
Now that the Supreme Court has obtained the CJEU’s ruling on its preliminary question, the matter will revert back to the Supreme Court for it to decide its appeal.
While it is not altogether certain what will happen next, it is likely that the Supreme Court will ultimately remit the matter to the WRC for it to decide on the substantive discrimination issue of the claimants in light of the CJEU’s ruling that it can disapply the offending regulation if it forms the view that it is in contravention of EU law.
It appears that the CJEU’s ruling could have far-reaching implications for all statutory and administrative bodies charged with applying EU law and will undoubtedly impact the approach taken by the WRC and Labour Court when similar issues arise.
We will continue to provide updates in relation to this important case.
If you would like to discuss the potential impact of this issue on your business, please contact a member of our Employment & Benefits team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.