Chillin'Competition

Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

Weapon of Constitutional Destruction

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On 5 July, the French Constitutional Court (FCC) issued a decision that may have massive repercussions in France (and which may  trigger debate elsewhere).

In Société Numéricable et autres, the FCC was asked to rule whether the sanctioning powers bestowed upon the French regulator for Telecommunications (ARCEP) were compatible with the Constitution.

In brief, the litigated provision entitles the ARCEP to remove market authorisations and/or to slap financial sanctions on electronic communications operators.

The FCC analysis is straightforward, blunt, brutal:

Considérant que, selon le premier alinéa de l’article L. 132 du code des postes et des communications électroniques, les services de l’Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques et des postes sont placés sous l’autorité du président de l’Autorité ; que, selon l’article D. 292 du même code, le directeur général est nommé par le président de l’Autorité, est placé sous son autorité et assiste aux délibérations de l’Autorité ; que, par suite et alors même que la décision de mise en demeure relève du directeur général, les dispositions des douze premiers alinéas de l’article L. 36-11 du code des postes et des communications électroniques, qui n’assurent pas la séparation au sein de l’Autorité entre, d’une part, les fonctions de poursuite et d’instruction des éventuels manquements et, d’autre part, les fonctions de jugement des mêmes manquements, méconnaissent le principe d’impartialité ; que celles de ces dispositions qui sont de nature législative doivent être déclarées contraires à la Constitution

In English now: the disputed provision does not provide for the separation of investigative and decisional functions within ARCEP. This breaches the principle of “impartiality” . As a result, the sanctioning powers of ARCEP must be declared contrary to the Constitution.

The French competition authority will likely not be impacted by this ruling, given that it is built on the bifurcated agency model.

And other integrated competition agencies can sleep tight (e.g. DG COMP), given the lack of FCC jurisdiction over non domestic affairs.

However, the merit of the FCC decision is to show that the “prosecutorial bias” issue is not a rethorical invention, concocted by disgruntled EU antitrust lawyers at grips with DG COMP.

Even in a country like France, where there is a considerable sympathy towards public institutions and where government agencies are almighty, some fundamental procedural safeguards are to be observed. And it starts with the idea that “he who prosecutes shall not judge (and sanction)“.

Thanks to Elise for the pointer.

Written by Nicolas Petit

12 July 2013 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Case-Law

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