Private waste contractors, led by Panda Waste Services and represented by A&L Goodbody, succeeded in their High Court challenge to a decision by the four Dublin local authorities to vary the authorities' waste management regime. The new plan was quashed both on competition law grounds and also for bias and prejudgment. The Plan would have effectively reserved to the local authorities the exclusive right to collect and control the destination of household waste. It would also have excluded private operators from the collection of household waste in the Dublin Region, except by tender.
The Court held that the impugned Plan was an anti-competitive agreement between undertakings or a concerted practice, within the meaning of the Competition Act 2002. The Court also found that the local authorities had abused their dominant position in the market for the collection of household waste in Dublin, a market which they both competed and regulated. The Court therefore held that the authorities were subject to competition law in this context.
The Court also held that the impugned plan was ultra vires as it could not have been contemplated that the Waste Management Act could be used by the local authorities to re-monopolise the market for household waste. The Court ruled that the Plan was vitiated by bias and prejudgment. The Court noted the alteration of reports relied on by the local authorities. The High Court found that prejudgment was a legitimate concern where the local authorities had contracted to build a waste incinerator in Poolbeg, Dublin, which requires the local authorities to deliver a minimum tonnage of waste to the facility.
The case is important because it shows how competition law can be applicable to public bodies and can also be used to ensure that there is full and free competition in the marketplace.