On 29 September 2011, the Irish Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr Richard Bruton, published the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2011 (the “Bill”). Aimed, primarily, at meeting the terms of the EU/IMF Programme of Financial Support (which mandates the introduction of legislation to strengthen the enforcement of competition law in Ireland), the proposals in the Bill include, amongst other things:
- an increase in the maximum level of fines across all categories of competition law offences (including an increase from €4 million to €5 million for indictable offences);
- an increase in the maximum prison sentence which can be imposed for indictable offences (from 5 to 10 years);
- the disapplication of the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 to competition law offences;
- a requirement that convicted persons will, except in exceptional circumstances, pay the investigation, detection and prosecution costs of the Competition Authority;
- an amendment to the Companies Act 1990 to permit the disqualification of directors for competition law offences; and
- the application of the principle of res judicata to competition law offences, which will, if adopted, make it easier for private competition litigants to prove an action for damages on foot of successful enforcement proceedings.
Although the Bill is intended to strengthen the enforcement of Irish competition law and to more effectively tackle white-collar crime, it remains to be seen whether it will have any influence on the, heretofore, low levels of criminal sanctions imposed by the Irish courts in competition matters.
The Bill must now go through both Houses of the Oireachtas (the Irish Parliament) and be signed by the President of Ireland before it can be enacted into law. It should be noted that the Bill may be the subject of amendment during this process.