Lovells’ conduct an ‘abuse’ in TACA shipping line case

The European Court of Justice has ruled that part of Lovells’ conduct in a major competition case amounts to abuse and, as a result, has ordered parties to pay their own legal fees.

The court ruled last Wednesday in the 13-year TACA case relating to rate-fixing by 17 shipping lines, that Lovells made unusually long applications, which were “for the most part unfounded”, and this amounted to an “abuse”.

As a result the court declared that the conduct of the applicants, all of which were represented by Lovells, had, “substantially added to the burden of dealing with this case, thus needlessly adding in particular to the costs of the Commission”.

Nonetheless, the firm did successfully overturn what had been a record fine of E273m (£163.5m), against the shipping companies, which is the largest annulment of any EC competition law fine to date.
Lovells’ litigation partner Matthew Levitt said the legal team – led by fellow partner John Pheasant who also conducted the advocacy – was pleased with the result, which has been widely perceived as a setback for the Commission.

However, he described the court’s ruling on costs as “unfair”. “On costs I would not agree with the way the court expressed this point,” he said.

The court said that each application was 500 pages long and contained annexes of approximately 100 files. Levitt said this was misleading as each application said the same thing, with an additional 100 pages relating to three of the four applications made by non-European shipping lines.
“Ninety-eight per cent of them were identical,” Levitt added.