COMPETITION • FRENCH LAW • PROCEDURE
According to Article 6 ECHR, every person has the right to be heard by impartial and independent judges. As proceedings before the Competition Authority are comparable to a criminal prosecution, they must obey this principle. To preserve impartiality there must be a proper separation of the roles of investigation and judgment. Thus, the Court of Cassation holds that where members of the Competition Authority have declared certain facts unlawful in the context of a granting of interim relief, this is a ruling on the merits and therefore a new ruling on the merits cannot be rendered by those members as this would amount to an objective failure to apply the principle of impartiality. However, the mere fact that the rapporteur was present during the deliberations on the interim measures before hearing the proceedings on the merits does aryticle 6 echr
not in itself demonstrate a violation of the principle of impartiality. Hence, the presence in the formation of the Competition Authority of members who had previously deliberated on the opinion rendered on the same facts is not contrary to the principle of impartiality as long as none of the terms of the opinion show any prejudice.
As the only authority with jurisdiction to rule on the compatibility of undertakings’ acts and conduct with the rules of competition, the Competition Authority, called upon to assess facts that were previously submitted to it during proceedings that were consequently annulled, does not violate the principle of impartiality, where it rules on the other notified objections that have been retained in the report with a different bench of Authority members sitting. The principle of impartiality is also not called into question by the Competition Authority’s ability to ask the investigating court (juridiction d’instruction), which alone can determine this, to communicate minutes or investigation reports that are directly related to the facts brought before the Authority.
Finally, the Competition Authority and the Paris Court of Appeal have ruled that ex-officio referral does not violate the principle of impartiality insofar as it is merely a means of devolving to the Competition Authority the facts set out in a leniency application and that it necessarily takes place after the leniency notice has been issued on the proposal of the rapporteur général. The Conseil constitutionnel also considered that the ex-officio referral to the Competition Authority does not violate the principle of independence and impartiality provided that there are sufficient guarantees, such as the investigation of the case under the sole direction of the rapporteur général or the absence of the latter from the deliberations of the Authority. Furthermore, the referral of a case to the Commission does not constitute prejudice or bias within the meaning of Article 6 ECHR when it does not designate any market, operator or prohibited fact.