The European Case Law Identifier or ECLI number is a pan-European publisher-neutral system of case citation.
It was established by the European Commission in 2010 following the recommendations of the Working Party on Legal Data Processing (e-Law) (12907/1/09) in order to ensure improved cross-border access to national case law, as well as standardising the citation of decisions of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.
Participation by member states of the European Union is voluntary and ECLI numbers have not as yet been applied to decisions of UK courts, most of which have adopted a system of Neutral Citations widely used in common law jurisdictions. (Indeed, this fact has been cited in connection with an EU-funded report on “On-line Publication of Court Decisions in the EU” (2017) recognising that the UK court system is “very distinct and different from other systems in EU member states”.)
Structure of the ECLI citation
The structure of the ECLI citation is composed of the following elements, separated by colons:
- Jurisdiction identifier
- Court identifier
- unique case number
The initial element, announcing that the citation is an ECLI, though formally part of the citation itself, is usually omitted in circumstances where the nature of the citation is already obvious.
Thus a typical ECLI number for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is:
where EU is the jurisdiction, C is the Court of Justice (T instead would indicate the lower General Court), 2014 is the year of judgment and 325 is the number of the judgment.
Note that the number is unrelated to the case number which forms part of the case title (eg Case C-204/09). Where the Advocate General gives an opinion in the case, this will have a separate ECLI number, different from that of the judgment of the court.
A typical ECLI number for the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is:
where CE is the jurisdiction (Council of Europe), ECHR is the court, 2016 is the year, 1220 is the month (Dec) and date (12th), JUD identifies the document as a judgment (DEC instead would indicate a decision), and 143708 indicates that the application number of the case was 1437/08.
Note that we generally prefer the initialism ECtHR over ECHR for the court to avoid confusion with the similar initialism for the European Convention on Human Rights.
Note also that, unlike the ECJ, the ECtHR includes in its ECLI the full date of judgment, but that the case number is the same as the application number assigned to the case at commencement, using the year of initial registration (/08), not that of judgment (2016).
All ICLR case reports now include ECLI numbers of both the ECJ and the ECtHR where those cases are listed as having been referred to in the judgment or cited in argument, and we are gradually adding them retrospectively to our indexes of older case law.