House of Lords overturns groundbreaking Inntrepreneur competition verdict

The House of Lords has overturned a Court of Appeal decision directing breweries Courage and Inntrepreneur to pay a former publican damages for dictating the suppliers to his leased pubs.

The decision today (18 July) in the long-running dispute, Inntrepreneur Pub Company (CPC) and others v Crehan, overturns the earlier decision in which the Court of Appeal awarded Crehan £131,336 in damages.

However, the High Court found that the beer tie-in system, which Crehan had been challenging as anti-competitive, did not infringe Article 81 of the EC Treaty (which prohibits anti-competitive agreements) and Crehan was not entitled to any damages.

Crehan, who ran the Cock Inn and The Phoenix at Staines, had argued that the brewery tie system, under which brewery landlords stipulate who their tenants must buy supplies from, unfairly prejudiced his ability to compete with non-tied pubs.

Marc Israel, competition law partner with Macfarlanes, described today’s decision as “a blow for the private enforcement of competition law breaches”.

Israel continued that this was worsened by the fact that private enforcement was “something which the European Commission and the OFT have recently been seeking to encourage to complement their regulatory functions”.

David Vaughan QC and Mark Brealey QC from Brick Court Chambers represented Crehan, instructed by Maitland Walker partner Rupert Croft.

Iain Milligan QC of 20 Essex Street and James Flynn QC and Nicholas Green QC of Brick Court Chambers represented Inntrepreneur, instructed by Sprecher Grier Halberstam.

The Office of Fair Trading, instructing Monckton Chambers’ Sir Jeremy Lever QC, and Visa, instructing Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and 20 Essex Street’s Stephen Morris QC, intervened in the case as interested parties.