Free competition is the hallmark of any successful economy and, if you feel that you are being unfairly excluded from a market, specialist lawyers will help you to level the playing field. Exactly that happened in a case concerning the railway industry.
A company which owns and operates railway infrastructure required all its suppliers to be accredited under a scheme operated by an independent industry body. A provider of alternative supplier assurance services complained to the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) that the effect of that exclusive arrangement was to prevent, restrict or distort competition within the UK, contrary to the Competition Act 1998.
The provider did not dispute that the company was entitled to require suppliers with whom it contracts directly as a buyer to undergo vetting by the body. It complained, however, that the extension of that requirement to others who do not deal directly with the company, but who require access to its infrastructure, was an abuse of the company’s dominant position as gatekeeper to that infrastructure.
In ruling on the matter, the CAT noted that the central issue was whether the company’s insistence on all its suppliers receiving accreditation from a single source was justified on health and safety grounds. It acknowledged the safety-critical nature of railway infrastructure and that promotion of health and safety is a legitimate purpose capable of justifying conduct that restricts competition.
In upholding the provider’s complaint, however, the CAT found that the company had failed to establish that such a restriction on competition was indispensable to the achievement of overriding health and safety objectives. The requirement that all suppliers seeking access to its infrastructure must achieve accreditation by a single route thus infringed the provisions of the Act.