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Retrospectivity Reconsidered

  • T. Koopmans (a1)


In its judgment of 8 April 1976, Defrenne v. Sabena, the Court of Justice of the European Communities gave an interpretation to the provisions of Article 119 of the E.E.C. Treaty, on equal pay of male and female workers, which caused some stir. The Court held that the equal pay rule had direct effect, in the sense that any female worker could appeal to it in proceedings against her employer before courts or tribunals of any of the Member States. This ruling embodied a novel interpretation of Article 119: not only because the Court itself had not yet applied its doctrine of direct effect to this article, but also because most of the authors on the subject had come to a different conclusion. The Court seems to have been aware of the practical problems which might result from such a situation; it added some considerations on what it called the “temporal effect” of its judgment. Its decision “might,” it said, result in the introduction of claims by female workers dating back to the time when the direct effect of Article 119 came about (1963 for the “old” Member States!); therefore, it developed a certain number of reasons for deciding that “important considerations of legal certainty affecting all the interests involved” made it impossible to reopen the question as regards the past. Only workers who had already brought legal proceedings at the date of the judgment could benefit from the direct effect.



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1 Case 43/75, Defrenne v. Sabena [1976] E.C.R. 481.

2 See, generally, Stocker, O., “Le second arrêt Defrenne: l'égalité des rémunérations des travailleurs masculins et de travalleurs féminins,” 13 Cah.Dr.Eur. 180 (1977).

3 See the text of Art. 119, par. 1, E.E.C.

4 Eur.Ct. Human Rights, 13 June 1979, Marckx case, Series A, no. 31.

5 See, among others, Wyatt, D., “Prospective effect of a holding of direct applicability” [1976] E.L.Rev. 399.

6 Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U.S. 618 (1965).

7 Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961).

8 Amendm. IV, U.S. Constitution.

9 Amendm. XIV, s. 1, U.S. Constitution.

10 Justices Harlan, Frankfurter and Whittaker dissenting.

11 For example, Chevron Oil Co. v. Huson. 404 U.S. 97 (1971).

12 For example, Van Gerven, Walter, “Contribution de l'arrêt Defrenne au développement du droit communautaire,” 13 Cah.Dr.Eur. 131 (1977).

13 See for Germany: BVerfGE 16, 130 (1963) on reapportionment; for Italy: Corte costituzionale no. 8, 2 June 1956, 1 Giur.costit. 602, on powers of prefetti.

14 See Rupp-von Brünneck, Vigoriti and Linde, “Admonitory functions of constitutional courts,” 20 Am.Jn.Comp.Law 387 (1972).

15 See Cappelletti, Mauro, Judicial review in the contemporary world (Indianapolis 1971), pp. 88et seq.

16 Jean-Victor Louis, Lohngleichheit vor dem Gericht der Europäischen Gemeinschaften, Eur. Grundr. Zeitung 1976/178; H. Kutscher, Méthodes d'interprétation vues par un juge à la Cour (Rencontre judiciaire et universitaire 27–28 septembre 1976, Luxembourg 1976), p. 1–42/45.

17 See also Kohl, Alphonse. “Observations sur la ‘non-rétroactivité’ de l'autorité de l'arrêt Defrenne,” 31 Rev.crit.jurispr.belge 231 (1977).

18 See Desist v. United States, 394 U.S. 244 (1969).

19 Case 2/74, Reyners [1974] E.C.R. 631.

20 See also Hamson, C. J., “Methods of interpretation, a critical assessment of the results” (Judicial and Academic Conference 27–28 September 1976, Luxembourg 1976), p. 117.

21 I borrow the term in quotation marks from Beytagh, Francis X., “Ten years of non-retroactivity, a critique and a proposal” 61 Virginia Law Rev. 1557 (1975).

22 Mishkin, Paul J., “The High Court, the great writ and the due process of time and law” 79 Harv.L.Rev.56 (1965).

23 Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972).

24 See Francis Beytagh, op. cit., supra, note 21; Wellington, Harry H., “Common law rules and constitutional double standards: some notes on adjudication” 83 Yale L.J. 221 (1973).

25 Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968); Desist v. United States, 394 U.S. 244 (1969).

26 In Witherspoon, note 25.

27 Van Gerven, op. cit., supra, note 12 accepts the “purpose” test for European law.

28 A most unlikely hypothesis: see Art. 2, par. 1, and Art. 4, par. 1, Eur. Convention on Human Rights.

29 The term is Mishkin's: op. cit., supra, note 22.

30 See also O. Stocker op. cit., supra, note 2.

31 The first edition of Gény's Méthodes d'interprétation et sources en droit privé positif was published in 1899.

32 A summary, with many references to German literature, in Engisch, Karl, “Einführung in das juristische Denken” (Urban Taschenbücher no. 80; 1st ed. Stuttgart 1956).

33 See particularly Mishkin, op. cit., supra, note 22.

34 Opinion 1/78, Draft Convention on nuclear installations (1978) E.C.R. 2151. See also debates on parliamentary questions put by Mr. Michel Debré, Compterendu des débats de l'Assemblée Nationale de 1er juin 1979 et du 12 octobre 1979, Journal Officiel 1979 p. 4607–4611 and p. 8209–8212.

35 See Lusky, Louis, “By what right?” (Charlottesville Va. 1975), Chap. XIII.

36 The case of the Human Rights Court is somewhat particular, as the Convention does not create rule-giving bodies; reference to “legislative” acts in that case must be taken to mean amendments to the Convention, e.g., by additional Protocol.

37 See Harlan, Justice, concurring, in Mackey v. United States, 401 U.S. 667 (1971).

38 Douglas, Justice, dissenting, in Adams v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 278 (1972).

39 See Art. 50 Eur. Convention on Human Rights.

40 Art. III, s. 2, U.S. Constitution.

41 See Art. 95 E.E.C.

42 See for example case 33/76, Rewe Zentralfinanz (1976) E.C.R. 1989.

43 See Stovall v. Denno, 388 U.S. 293 (1967).

44 Cox, Archibald, The role of the Supreme Court in American Government (Oxford 1976), Chap. III.

45 See joint cases 124/76 and 20/77, Moulins et Huileries de Pont-à-Mousson (“gritz de maïs”) (1977) E.C.R. 1795.

46 The Federalist, no. LXXVIII (Everyman's ed. p. 401).

Retrospectivity Reconsidered

  • T. Koopmans (a1)


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