In recent years there has been an increased focus on targeting those involved in cartels and the undermining of competition in UK markets, as well as the extension of international regulations to crack down on anti-competitive practices worldwide. Since 2003, it has been a criminal offence to engage in such practices in the UK, with serious consequences for those convicted, including heavy fines and imprisonment.
The Regulatory and Compliance Solicitors at Wilford Smith are experts when it comes to defending individuals, companies and organisations subject to investigations relating to cartels and anti-competitive practices, providing our clients with specialist advice on regulatory compliance, investigation procedures, enforcement and prosecution proceedings. Our solicitors are able to work closely with colleagues with expertise in other areas of law, such as criminal litigation, employment, commercial and public law to enable you to mount a robust defence to any charges made against you. Call our Regulatory and Compliance Team today to find out how we can help.
What is a cartel investigation?
In terms of competition law, cartel investigations target practices designed to reduce competition in UK markets. This may involve price fixing, the rigging of bids for contracts, market share arrangements and limiting the supply of goods. In June 2003, the Enterprise Act 2002 came into force in the UK with the intention of promoting open and honest competition and punishing those engaging in cartel activity.
There are two methods by which competition law is enforced in the UK. Public bodies, most often the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the European Commission (EC), carry out public enforcement by way of investigations that can be criminal or civil in nature. If a company is found to have infringed competition law, the CMA and EC have the power to hand out fines. Individuals convicted of these behaviours could be subject to custodial sentences, unlimited fines or both.
Private enforcement describes action taken by individuals or companies who suffer loss as a consequence of competition law breaches. In many cases, this will happen when a decision has been made by the CMA or EC following an investigation, which establishes that illegal practices have taken place, and is often referred to as a “follow-on” claim. However, it is also possible for there to be claims made for damages independently of any investigation, known as “stand-alone” claims. London is a
leading centre for private enforcement proceedings, with the Competition Appeals Tribunal, which handles “follow-on” damages actions, based here.
How are cartel investigations carried out?
Investigations by bodies such as the CMA cover a wide range of sectors, from construction and technology to manufacturing and food and drink. It is not uncommon for these investigations to have an international component, as cartels operate across a number of jurisdictions, with the Department of Justice in the US being particularly active in the investigation and prosecution of cartels that impact upon the competitiveness of the American market. In recent years, the EC has handed down a number of multi-million pound fines for anti-competitive practices. These proceedings are often complex in nature, with extradition applications being a feature of investigations with a cross-border element. As such, it is vital to get the best legal advice if you find yourself subject to an investigation for a breach of competition law.
Recent changes in the law have had a substantial effect on these investigations, with the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 removing the requirement that the CMA prove that dishonesty has taken place. As such, it is now harder than ever for individuals and companies to demonstrate that their conduct has not breached competition law, while directors and senior individuals may be charged without knowledge that they have been acting illegally. For this reason, it is now more essential than ever that expert legal guidance is sought when dealing with a cartel investigation.
Contact our Cartel Investigation Solicitors in Sheffield
Wilford Smith’s Regulatory and Compliance Solicitors are experts in advising clients in relation to cartel investigations, as well as working with individuals and firms to help avoid these proceedings. We take pride in our reputation for unique representation, giving our clients a service that is exceptionally strategic and results driven, and can attract the highest calibre barristers to provide support when necessary.
Our Regulatory and Compliance Solicitors are based in Sheffield and assist clients throughout England and Wales. Contact us today on 01709 828 044 to find out how we can help.