ARTICLE: PROCEDURES - FRENCH COMPETITION LAW - CRIMINALIZATION - INVESTIGATION - ADMINISTRATIVE EFFECTIVENESS - REINFORCEMENT

A repenalization of competition law in France? About the use of Article 40 of the Code of Criminal Procedure by the investigating services of the French Competition Authority

The General Rapporteur (Rapporteur Général) of the French Competition Authority (Autorité de la Concurrence) intends to use the procedure provided for under article 40 of the French Code of Criminal Procedure in order to increase the effectiveness of the Competition Authority’s work, in particular by benefiting from the broader investigative resources provided for in criminal proceedings. However, the consequence of this is that the measures provided for under criminal law are systematically made available in the cases in question, which undermines the fundamental choices contained in the Ordonnance of 1986 and the subsequent development of French competition law. The residual criminal law elements retained by the Ordonnance of 1986 are indeed exceptional with regard to companies, as priority is given to administrative proceedings, as well as with the development of alternative measures (leniency, settlement, commitments, etc.). The announced reinforcement of the criminal law element is paradoxical insofar as the objective pursued is not of criminal law enforcement but of administrative efficiency. In addition, the “political” choice to introduce such a reinforcement, which should, as provided for by the French Commercial Code in article L. 462-6, paragraph 2, be within the scope of the responsibility of the Board itself (the Collège, i.e., the collegiate decision-making body of the French Competition Authority) raises many questions regarding practical implementation, linked to the uncertainties of article 40 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and article L. 420-6 of the Commercial Code. It also exacerbates the difficulties of conciliating the various procedures, in particular for leniency and settlement, reviving moreover the recurring debates as to whether or not article L. 420-6 applies to legal entities, and consequently, those regarding the principle of non-cumulative sentences (non-cumul des peines).

1. Différentes entreprises ont fait l’objet récemment, de la part de rapporteurs de l’Autorité de la concurrence agissant sur commission rogatoire de juges d’instruction, de perquisitions et saisies en application de la procédure pénale. Celle-ci, en particulier et à la différence de la procédure normale devant l’Autorité de la concurrence, ne prévoit ni l’assistance d’un avocat, ni la remise en fin d’investigations d’un procès-verbal, ni la possibilité de recours immédiat. Dans ce contexte, une déclaration du rapporteur général de l’Autorité [1] mettant en avant les avantages de l’utilisation de l’article 40 du code de procédure pénale [2] permet de s’interroger sur ce qui pourrait constituer une nouvelle orientation pénaliste du droit français de la concurrence, en rupture avec la grande réforme de l’ordonnance

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Robert Saint-Esteben, A repenalization of competition law in France? About the use of Article 40 of the Code of Criminal Procedure by the investigating services of the French Competition Authority, May 2019, Concurrences Review N° 2-2019, Art. N° 90002, pp. 54-65

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