What is ECLI

ΕCLI is the abbreviation of the European Case Law Identifier (officially translated in Greek as Αναγνωριστικό Ευρωπαϊκής Νομολογίας). The term ECLI is commonly used in all European Union languages and Member States.

ECLI is a system for the identification (an "identifier", "αναγνωριστικό" in Greek) of court decisions (case law), with the potential of being expanded to cover other public documents as well. It covers, on the one hand, the case law (court decisions, opinions of the Advocate General) of the EU judicial bodies, as well as of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Patent Office and, on the other hand, the national case law of Member States.

In addition to the citation/refererence system for court decisions, which constitutes the "identifier" properly speaking, the ECLI ecosystem includes, as its vital part, the so-called metadata (μεταδεδομένα), i.e.  information pertinent to a court decision which accompanies the decision but is not regarded as forming part thereof.

The importance of ECLI lies in creating a single identifier form for the entire European Union, while leaving further specification up to the authorities of each Member State. The system created by ECLI is maintained digitally and connected to the electronic filing of court deicisions in national and Europe-wide electronic database. Online access to court decisions, at least in the form these are provided to the European search engine for case law, is free.

ECLI structure

Το αναγνωριστικό ECLI συνίσταται στα εξής πέντε στοιχεία:

α) the abbreviation «ECLI»;
β) the country code for the country (or institution) under whose competence the judicial decision is rendered;
γ) the court code, i.e. the abbreviation (up to 7 characters) chosen by the national coordinator, unique for each court in the country;
δ) the year of the decision, which must be written in four digits;
ε) an ordinal number (up to 25 characters) unique in the sense that there must not be more than one judgment of the same court within the same year with the same ordinal number. 

Example 1: the ECLI identifier for the CJEU decision in the case Alpha Bank Cyprus Ltd v Dau Si Senh κ.ά. (C-519/13) is ECLI:EU:C:2015:603; the Opinion of the Advocate General in the same case bears the identifier ECLI:EU:C:2015:33.

Meta-data

Metadata are data describing other data. A more technical definition describes metadata as "structured information that describes, explains, locates, orotherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use, or manage an information resource."