In our October 2011 Competition Newsletter we reported on the Irish Supreme Court’s ruling in DPP v Hegarty that an individual employee can be tried for a breach of Irish competition law even if his employer has not been convicted of an offence. Following the ruling, the case against Pat Hegarty continued in the Galway Circuit Criminal Court.
On 3 May 2012, the jury in the case found Mr. Hegarty guilty of price-fixing and he was sentenced to two years in prison (suspended) and fined €30,000. He also faces disqualification from being a company director for five years. Mr. Hegarty becomes the first ever individual in Ireland or in the EU to be convicted by a jury for price-fixing.
Prior to Mr. Hegarty’s conviction, there had been seventeen convictions involving ten undertakings and seven individuals in connection with the heating oil cartel (including one suspended sentence). Fines ranged from €1,000 to €15,000. Mr. Hegarty was the last remaining defendant in the investigation. The jury’s conviction of Mr. Hegarty and the court’s approach to fines and sentencing demonstrate the willingness of both judge and jury to penalise breaches of competition law in Ireland. It appears to be only a matter of time before a convicted cartelist faces real time in prison in the jurisdiction. Warnings from the judiciary certainly support this view.
The Irish Competition Authority is expected to publish its revised Cartel Immunity Programme (“CIP”) in the short-term. It is currently being considered by the Irish Director of Public Prosecutions. The revisions are intended to make the CIP more self-contained, transparent and attractive to potential applicants, thereby making it more effective. Meanwhile, in the UK, the government is considering removing the requirement for proof of dishonesty in criminal cartel cases. Currently, individuals can be found guilty of a breach of criminal cartel laws only if they act dishonestly. Clearly, cartel enforcement remains a high priority for government and regulators in both Ireland and in the UK.