Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

Words of Warning (to lawyers)

with one comment


Note to readers: this will be controversial. 

Disclaimer: the content of this post represents my sole opinion only, and does not reflect the official views of this blog or of Alfonso Lamadrid (who likes to be more politically correct than myself)

Lawyers arguing in Luxemburg are p*****g off the Members of the Court.

Mistress AG Sharpston made this very clear in a recent editorial in the Journal of European Competition Law & Practice (2013) 4 (6): 453-454:

Finally, you the reader of this editorial—the advocate pleading competition cases before the EU courts, or the in-house adviser analysing the merits of challenging a Commission decision or lodging an appeal—can also make a major contribution towards ensuring that the courts function effectively and smoothly and can deliver effective judicial review. Please (I beg you) consolidate your arguments and only run with the points that have some real substance to them. Don’t put in an application with six grounds of appeal, each divided into several sub-points (you know, and I know, that not all are of equal merit!). Please plead succinctly and clearly (think of translation!) and please don’t throw in an additional 600 pages of annexes in case something there might help to swing the case your way. And, by the way: please don’t appeal a clearly hopeless case to the Court of Justice just to show the client that you’ve tried everything you can. We too are worried about our workload—particularly the part of that workload that consists of wholly unmeritorious or manifestly inadmissible appeals—and we are looking at ways to streamline how we deal with such cases. You have been warned. Ensuring effective judicial protection against the background of increasing workload and financial constraints is a real challenge. It can be achieved; but everyone needs to play their part“.

You read well: you have been warned.

Now, how bout’ the sanction? After all, the rethorics of fear cannot work effectively, if not accompanied by subsequent implementation (for more evidence, see the recent purge in North Korea). In the antitrust field, our friend Wouter Wils would say that enforcement cannot be optimal without a credible (probable) sanction.

With notable exceptions (CISAC), judgments like Dole, Tomra or Telefonica say it all.

Most of the applicant’s arguments are purged swept aside, without being subject to the simplest discussion.

Now who’s the culprit?

  • A milky business-model based on billable hours, information asymetries and moral hazard between principal (client) and agent (lawyer)?


  • A political judicial institution of non specialist judges, who exhibit interest for principled issues only and a correlative sense of contempt disinterest for factual and technical issues?

PS: Not everyone in Luxembourg seems to side with the official party line AG Sharpston. In his opinion under TelefonicaAG Whatelet also complained of overlenghty submissions. Yet, he reviewed the parties’ arguments. See hereafter.

“7. Force est de constater que: i) le pourvoi, formulé de façon confuse et peu structurée, est extrêmement long – la traduction française de la requête ne comptant pas moins de 133 pages, et ce en interligne simple, pour 492 points (8) – et répétitif, en présentant plusieurs centaines de moyens, branches, griefs, arguments et éléments d’arguments (ce qui constituerait, selon la Commission, un record dans l’histoire contentieuse de l’Union); ii) le pourvoi vise presque systématiquement à obtenir un nouvel examen des faits, sous le couvert d’allégations selon lesquelles le Tribunal aurait appliqué un «critère juridique erroné»; iii) les moyens sont souvent présentés comme de simples affirmations dénuées de toute motivation, et iv) les requérantes, d’une part, critiquent souvent la décision litigieuse et non l’arrêt attaqué et, d’autre part, lorsque leurs critiques s’adressent effectivement à l’arrêt attaqué, elles n’identifient pratiquement jamais les passages ou les points précis de cet arrêt qui contiendraient de prétendues erreurs de droit.

8. Ces constatations et la difficulté, voire l’impossibilité, pour la Commission d’exercer ses droits de la défense ont inspiré l’exception d’irrecevabilité qu’elle a soulevée à l’encontre de l’ensemble du pourvoi. Même si je peux avoir quelque sympathie pour cette exception d’irrecevabilité – et d’ailleurs de nombreuses parties du pourvoi me paraissent manifestement irrecevables – il n’en demeure pas moins que le pourvoi en tant que tel ne peut être déclaré irrecevable dans son intégralité, dans la mesure où quelques-uns des moyens ou arguments du pourvoi (même si c’est à l’aune d’aiguilles dans une botte de foin) remplissent les exigences de recevabilité. Ces aiguilles soulèvent en outre des questions de principe, parfois inédites, concernant notamment l’obligation du Tribunal d’exercer un véritable contrôle de pleine juridiction”.

Written by Nicolas Petit

24 December 2013 at 12:26 pm

One Response

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  1. Nico: the sanction is simple & obvious.
    The view of many people seems to be that the EU Courts have little or no spare capacity, and that no increase in the resources of the Courts is, in the short term, feasible.
    If workload continues to grow as it did in these last years then, in my view, the inevitable effect is that the Courts will have less time, energy and resources to deal with each case that really deserves it (rectius: to deal with each plea that really deserves it).
    This unfortunately implies: (i) somewhat lower quality of the output, and/or (ii) less rapidity in delivering decisions.
    In conclusion, the sanction is that justice will be slower or of lesser quality. Not necessarily meaning that decisions will be ‘bad/wrong’, but perhaps decisions will be shorter, less motivated, not translated into all official languages etc.
    Who’s gonna pay? We all, clearly: bad layers and good lawyers, applicants and defendants, EU institutions, Member states, citizens and businesses.


    14 January 2014 at 5:16 pm

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