British retailer Marks & Spencer remains on course to sell its 18 European shops following a vital court ruling in Paris on Wednesday.

A judge threw out a case brought by three French unions that had challenged the legal validity of the works councils with whom M&S has been discussing the proposed closure of its stores. The judge also ordered the unions to pay costs.

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Marks and Spencer Plc (download)

The case follows demonstrations by protestors furious at the company's decision earlier this year to close all of its European stores. Staff claimed they were given no warning that their jobs were at risk because of the sale.

Following the hearing, M&S said: "We are pleased with the outcome as we have always believed our European council agreement was valid and created the right pan-European forum for informing and consulting our staff."

But although the unions lost their fight to have the works councils disbanded, they have forcde M&S chairman and chief executive, Luc Vandevelde, to change his strategy and try and sell the stores as a going concern to safeguard jobs.

Potential buyers include Galeries Lafayette, the department stores group, and Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, the retail conglomerate owned by Francois Pinault. Proceeds from the sale will go towards a promised £2 billion return of capital to shareholders in March.

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