On 4 December 2018 the Court of Justice of the European Union ("the CJEU") confirmed that the Workplace Relations Commission ("the WRC") which is responsible for the resolution of employment related disputes in Ireland had the authority to disapply a rule of national law that was contrary to EU law.
The CJEU decision was made in the case of the Minister for Justice, Equality, and The Commissioner of the Garda Síochána v Workplace Relations Commission. In that case, three individuals brought age discrimination claims to the Equality Tribunal (now the WRC) when they were refused entry to the Garda Síochána on the basis that they were over 35. The question arose as to whether the WRC had the jurisdiction to dis-apply a national provision on the basis it contravened EU equality law. The case initially went before the High Court which found the WRC had no jurisdiction. The matter was appealed to the Supreme Court, which sought a preliminary ruling from the CJEU. The CJEU determined that a national body established by law in order to ensure enforcement of EU law must be allowed to disapply national legislation where that national legislation is contrary to EU law. Historically, only the High Court had the jurisdiction to disapply national legislation in favour of EU law. This decision represents a fundamental change in the power held by statutory authorities in Ireland, including the WRC.
What will happen next?
From an employment perspective, it is likely that this decision will immediately impact decisions being issued by the WRC. The question of whether legislation has been implemented in line with EU legislation could become a recurring theme in WRC cases. It also remains to be seen whether the WRC, which was established to expedite the resolution of cases, will have the resources to ensure cases reach a speedy conclusion when such issues are being raised. On 5 December 2018, the Department of Justice and Equality released a statement confirming that it is considering the implications of the judgment. We are eagerly awaiting any further statements from the Department confirming how it will deal with this landmark decision.