Article 1 of the Terms of reference of the Hearing Officer ("Terms of Reference") provides that the main role of the Hearing Officer is to "safeguard the effective exercise of procedural rights throughout competition proceedings before the Commission […]." These procedural rights cover the rights of all parties involved in competition proceedings, thus also complainants and interested third persons.
The right to be heard is one of the main procedural rights and lies at the heart of the Hearing Officer's role.
Article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that every citizen has the "…right to have his or her affairs handled impartially, fairly and within a reasonable time by the institutions and bodies of the Union." This includes "the right of every person to be heard, before any individual measure which would affect him or her adversely is taken ..."
To ensure the proper performance of their role as the guardians of the right to be heard, the Hearing Officer has the following tasks:
- deciding on requests by third parties to be heard as an interested third person in the proceedings (Article 5 of the Terms of Reference);
- deciding on requests by complainants and interested third persons to participate at oral hearings (Article 6);
- deciding on disputes concerning access to the Commission’s file or to documents and information (Article 7) and disputes concerning the disclosure of business secrets and other confidential information (Article 8);
- deciding on disputes concerning extensions of the time limits to reply to a statement of objections (Article 9);
- organizing and chairing oral hearings, and reporting thereafter to the Competition Commissioner (Articles 10 to 14); and
- ensuring that the final Commission decision is not based on any objections on which the parties subject to the proceedings have not been heard (Article 16).