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Charles Russell has pulled off a victory in the European Court of Justice in a test case concerning pubs tied to breweries.
Litigation partner Rupert Croft is representing publican Bernie Crehan in a test case against his landlord Inntrepreneur and former brewers Courage. Crehan is claiming damages for losses caused to him by beer ties that bound him to the combined policies of Inntrepreneur to maximise its rent and Courage to maximise its beer prices. Under current law, parties cannot claim damages for illegal agreements if they were party to them. But the firm has won a ruling against this, meaning that publicans can now claim damages as they can under US antitrust law. Croft worked with barristers David Vaughan QC and Mark Brealey from Brick Court Chambers. On the other side was Masons partner Anne Molyneux with Nicholas Green QC, also from Brick Court. Croft said: "This is particularly significant in the competition field because it's now clear that individuals can recover damages when there has been an anti-competitive agreement, and when they are party to that agreement. It's not just relevant to the pub trade, but anywhere there is a franchise agreement." Several hundred cases are awaiting the outcome of this case, which will now go back to the Court of Appeal. The case has been proceeding on the assumption that the beer ties will be found to have breached competition laws, but now that has to be decided. Courage and Inntrepreneur deny the publicans' allegations, saying that the ties were fair. Croft said: "We will now have to determine whether there was a breach and we're confident that we can do that." He said that if the courts decide that there has been a breach and the ties are illegal, the case could cost Inntrepreneur many millions of pounds.