The OFT has launched a consultation on proposals to strengthen its Competition Act (CA98) decision-making processes. To improve the speed and robustness of investigations, as
well as increase engagement with the parties involved, the OFT is proposing enhancements to its processes for handling CA98 investigations including:
- More interactive oral hearings, to provide greater opportunity for dialogue between parties to an investigation and the decision-makers on the case.
- More ‘state of play’ meetings, to update parties on the OFT’s progress in an investigation and provide a forum for parties to make their points of view known during the investigation.
- A new ability for parties to make representations on key elements of draft penalty calculations, giving parties an opportunity to comment ahead of the final decision being taken.
- New arrangements for internal checks and balances within the OFT, involving scrutiny by lawyers and economists who are not part of the investigation team.
- Publishing case opening notices and case-specific administrative timetables on the OFT website to improve transparency of ongoing CA98 investigations.
The OFT has also suggested the introduction of a new system of decision-makers who are separate from investigation teams, and the extension of the trial of its Procedural Adjudicator for a further year, to March 2013, with an expanded remit including responsibility for chairing oral hearings in CA98 cases and reporting to the decision-makers on whether the parties’ procedural rights have been respected.
The OFT Chairman, Philip Collins, commented that the proposals are “part of an ongoing process of further improving our Competition Act processes to make them more transparent and robust, whilst also ensuring investigations are carried out more quickly than in the past.”
It is not clear at this stage whether the proposals, if adopted, would be absorbed into the Competition Markets Authority (CMA), which the Government recently announced would replace and assume the combined functions of the OFT and the Competition Commission from April 2014. However, they are consistent with, and designed to build a platform for, the Government’s CMA proposals.