The UK’s specialist competition law court, the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT), handed down its first judgment under the fast-track procedure. This procedure is aimed at assisting small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) to enforce their rights under EU and UK competition law.
In addition to quick treatment by the CAT, a particular feature of the procedure is that the amount of recoverable legal and other costs (for either party under the standard “loser pays” rule) is capped at a level determined by the CAT.
The claimant in this case, Socrates, is an SME that provides online training. The defendant, the Law Society, is the professional body for solicitors in England and Wales. The Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) is a scheme operated by the Law Society which provides a form of accreditation for firms of solicitors engaged in residential conveyancing.
For several years, the CQS has incorporated an element of mandatory training, including training in mortgage fraud and anti-money laundering (AML). Socrates is a provider of training courses in AML for lawyers. By its claim, Socrates contended that the requirement under the terms of the CQS that members of the scheme must obtain certain training courses exclusively from the Law Society is an abuse of a dominant position and/or an anti-competitive agreement and therefore illegal under UK competition law.
The CAT agreed and held that the Law Society had breached UK competition law (for part of the period covered by the claim). The issue of the damages to be awarded will be considered at a later date.
UK companies face a range of abuses by dominant companies, large as well as small. The fast-track regime before the CAT provides an avenue to protect a company against this behaviour, as well as the effect of anti-competitive agreements more generally.