preliminary ruling
a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Communities in European law. The jurisdiction to make such a ruling arises in cases that have not come before the court itself but have arisen in the court of proceedings in national courts. Because Community law is law in the member states, it is necessary that it is not distorted across the Community by uneven interpretation by national courts. A study of the earlier judgments of national courts confirms the tendency of the national courts to take a local view of Community law. Under Article 177, a national tribunal may request a ruling each and any time it considers that it requires an answer to the interpretation of Community law. If there is no appeal the court must request a ruling. The applicability and interpretation of the conditions for a reference have now been settled in the UK: see Bulmer v . Bollinger [1974] 1 Ch. 401; Commissioners of Customs and Excise v . Samex [1983] 1 All ER 1042. The UK courts recognise the existence of the doctrine of acte claire, which is the doctrine that allows a national court to apply its own interpretation of Community law rather than request a preliminary ruling. The Court of Justice has made it plain that the interpretation must be so obvious as to leave no scope for any reasonable doubt: see CILFIT v. Ministero della Sanità [1983] 1 CMLR 472; Garland v. British Rail [1983] 2 AC 751. In relation to matters of primary law, for example the treaties, the court may rule only on interpretation; in respect of secondary law, like regulations, the court can also rule on validity. Once the court has ruled, the case is returned to the national court to apply as appropriate.

Collins dictionary of law. . 2001.

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