UK competition reforms get a mixed response

LAWYERS yesterday welcomed the government’s proposals to reform the UK’s competition regime, but warned that new anti-cartel rules would make it easier to prosecute those involved in price fixing.

Under plans launched by business minister Norman Lamb yesterday, a new UK competition authority will not be required to prove dishonesty in an individual involved in a cartel, allowing them to seek penalties including up to five years in prison.

But the government stopped short of introducing a US-style prosecutorial system – where a case must be proven in court before it can be prosecuted – an idea that had been mooted after an OFT decision on price fixing by UK tobacco firms and UK supermarkets was recently overturned.

“This is yet another reminder that there are real enforcement rights against anti-competitive behaviour in the UK,” said Michael Grenfell, a competition partner at Norton Rose.

The government also confirmed expected plans to merge the Office of Fair Trading with the Competition Commission to form a new super-regulator – the Competition and Markets Authority.

“The system is already very thorough and effective,” said SJ Berwin’s new senior partner Stephen Kon. “But this should help improve efficiency.”