The Competition (Amendment) Act 2012 came into force on 3 July 2012. The Act is intended to strengthen competition law enforcement in Ireland and to provide more effective deterrents to individuals or companies engaging in anti-competitive practices by increasing sanctions and penalties.
The Act aims to bolster competition law enforcement through the following measures:
- Settlement agreements entered into by the Competition Authority and undertakings (to avoid the initiation of public enforcement proceedings by way of civil action) may be made orders of court. An undertaking’s failure to comply with such an order may result in the imposition of penalties for contempt of court;
- The Act facilitates civil enforcement by private litigants in follow-on actions for damages by easing the burden of proof. Plaintiffs may now rely on the outcome of public enforcement proceedings where a court has determined that an undertaking has engaged in prohibited anti-competitive practices; and
- A person or undertaking convicted of a competition law offence may now be obliged to pay the costs of the Competition Authority’s investigation of that offence. Competition Amendment Act 2012 briefing
Significant changes in sanctions and penalties under the Act include:
- An increase in the maximum prison sentence from 5 to 10 years for conviction of so-called “hardcore” anti-competitive offences (e.g., price-fixing cartel arrangements) and in the level of fines that a court may impose;
- The courts may now disqualify a person from being a director of a company for summary conviction of any breach of competition law (there is already an automatic disqualification regime in place concerning conviction on indictment); and
- Disapplication of the Probation Act for any person convicted of certain competition law offences.
The Act is part of the Government’s commitment under its agreement with the EU/IMF financial support programme to strengthen competition law enforcement in Ireland. The Act is expected to be followed later this year by draft legislation merging the Competition Authority with the National Consumer Agency.