The Amsterdam District Court recently ruled that the European Commission is best equipped to provide a redacted version of its air cargo cartel decision. Disclosure of the confidential version to a limited number of people was not an option, given that certain sensitive information would still need to be excluded. This would be a too extensive, time-consuming and burdensome process for the District Court to undertake. The European Commission therefore seems to remain the best bet for disclosure of non-confidential cartel decisions.
In March 2015, claims vehicle Equilib asked a number of airlines, addressees of the European Commission’s air cargo cartel decision, to hand over the confidential version of the decision in order for it to further substantiate its damages claim, since a non-confidential version cartel decision was not yet available. A summary of the cartel decision had however been published by the European Commission.
The District Court rejected Equilib’s request. It held that Equilib had not substantiated why it needed the information contained in the confidential version of the cartel decision, particularly since the airlines had argued that the cartel decision summary already contained the necessary information. The court also ruled that, even if it limited the number of people with access to the confidential version through a confidentiality ring, certain sensitive information would still need to be excluded from the confidential version, thus resulting in the court having to do the European Commission’s job. Redacting a 300-page cartel decision would be an extensive, time-consuming and burdensome task, which – as is apparent from the UK procedure – provides no guarantee for a swift result. The European Commission is better equipped for this task, particularly now that the European Commission’s publication process of a non-confidential version of the cartel decision is almost complete.
The District Court also rejected the airlines’ request that the court obtain a number of documents from Equilib including air waybills, framework agreements and invoices, which could further substantiate the airlines’ defence. It considered the collection of such an extensive number of documents too time-consuming and costly, as well as premature, since it is up to Equilib to further substantiate its claim first.
This ruling shows that Dutch courts appear to favour a practical approach when dealing with information requests. Given that redacting cartel decisions to share within a confidentiality ring will often be time-consuming, it seems the European Commission remains the best bet for disclosure of non-confidential versions of cartel decisions.