View from the house

The government has brought in a competition bill which introduces aung. prohibition of restrictive agreements and of abuses of dominant market positions.

Previous monopoly and anti-competitive practice controls are replaced, as is the framework for controlling restrictive agreements.

The bill aligns UK domestic competition law with the Treaty of Rome and alters the structures and responsibilities of the UK competition authorities.

The government has said it will not necessarily be the case that parties will be entitled to an oral hearing. The Director General might have oral hearings, but there may be circumstances where he might want to take comments from interested parties and may be happy with what they say without moving to oral hearings.

The reason why the government is saying that the rules might not give an absolute right to an oral hearing is because of the appeals structure.

Under the bill when it becomes law, appeals will be by way of a full rehearing; under European Community law, appeals are by way of judicial review.

The government takes the view that, unlike the Community system, it now provides an appeal body, whereas there is no appeal body at the European Commission. The bill now provides an appeal tribunal – and even beyond the appeal tribunal – on points of law to our courts as well.

There are those who say there should be an absolute right to an oral hearing and, without this absolute right before the Office of Fair Trading, more appeals are likely to go to higher tribunals.

The government replies that, under the Human Rights Act, once on the statute book, the Director General of the OFT will have to ensure there will be a fair hearing for those concerned.

There is criticism that there will be no statutory timetable for investigations or exemptions. The government says the Director General’s rules will set out a timetable in due course once the OFT has experience of the Act when it is in force.

Clearly the devil will be in the detail of the rules to be worked out and then we shall see whether we have now placed on the statute book an efficient competition law.

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