How exactly is the EU bound by public international law? What is the justiciability of acts of foreign sovereign nations in EU courts? To what extent can an individual rely on customary or other sources of public international law, in national courts or at the CJEU? All of these questions often puzzle non-lawyers (if something is illegal due to a higher rule, how can the lower rule still be in existence) and lawyers alike. At the EU level, things are complicated due to the hybrid (OK: sui generis) nature of the EU, and its complicated relationship with international law.
In Western Sahara Campaign UK, claimant is an independent voluntary organisation founded in 1984 with the aim of supporting the recognition of the right of the Saharawi people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence and to raise awareness of the unlawful occupation of the Western Sahara. Defendants are the Inland Revenue, challenged for the preferential tariff given on import to the UK of goods that are classified as being of Moroccan origin but in fact originate from the territory of Western Sahara. The second challenge is brought against the Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in respect of the intended application of the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement to policy formation relating to fishing in the territorial waters of Western Sahara.
Essentially, it is claimed that defendants ought not to apply the relevant European agreements for these are, arguably, in violation of public international law. Claimant contends that Morocco has annexed the territory of Western Sahara and claims it as part of its sovereign territory despite decisions of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that the people of Western Sahara have the right to self-determination. Accordingly it is said that Morocco’s occupation is in breach of the principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations.
Under EU law, only the CJEU can establish the invalidity of EU law. Blake J decided to send the case to Luxembourg for preliminary review. Defendants opposed such reference primarily because they submit that the issues raised by the claimant are matters of public international law that the CJEU will decline to adjudicate on in the present circumstances. Precedent which they relied on is not unequivocal, however. This case therefore will be an opportunity for the CJEU (Grand Chamber, one would imagine) to clarify the relationship between EU and public international law.