On 23 November 2010, the French Civil Supreme Court (the "Court") quashed the Paris Court of Appeal's judgment of November 2009, which had annulled a previous decision of the former French Competition Council (the "Council") in relation to the luxury perfume sector. The Court of Appeal had found that the proceedings initiated by the Council lasted too long and therefore infringed companies' rights of defence (see Issue 447 of Community Week).

The Court declared that the annulment of the Council's decision was insufficiently motivated and lacked a convincing legal basis.

The Court admitted that the duration of the non-adversarial first phase of the proceedings before the Council could be considered to establish whether the duration was unreasonably long, and thus in breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court also specified that if the duration of this first phase could not be justified by the complexity of the case, it could be deemed as excessively long.

The Court of Appeal's judgment was the first time that a French court took into account the duration of the proceedings to quash a decision of the Council.  Previously excessively lengthy procedure had only entitled companies to financial compensation.

The Court's judgment also dealt with the issue of sanctioning the duration of the proceedings.

To sanction excessively long proceedings, the Court would require to demonstrate that the companies had suffered personal, effective and irreparable harm. This position demonstrates that the Court envisages it being difficult to secure the sanction of excessively long proceedings.

The Court has issued an order to the Court of Appeal to retry the case.

To view Community Week, Issue 499; 26th November 2010 in full, Click here

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