Category Archives: Penalties

Can several wrongs make a right? Gallaher v CMA in the Court of Appeal

When a public body makes a mistake in its treatment of one person, can fairness require it to treat other people in the same way – even if that means amplifying the effects of the mistake?

According to the Court of Appeal in the latest instalment of the tobacco litigation, the answer is yes.  The history of the case is well-known.  The Office of Fair Trading’s decision, that various manufacturers and retailers had committed an infringement in the setting of tobacco prices, collapsed on appeal to the CAT in 2011.  Gallaher and Somerfield, who had entered into early resolution agreements (“ERAs”) with the OFT and therefore decided not to appeal the infringement decision, then sought to appeal out of time.  The Court of Appeal rejected their attempt in 2014, emphasising the importance of finality and legal certainty (see my blog here).

Undeterred, Gallaher and Somerfield pressed on with a different aspect of their case.  They had discovered that another company, TM Retail, had been assured by the OFT when it entered into its ERA in 2008 that, in the event that any other party succeeded on appeal, TM Retail would have the benefit of that appeal.  The OFT’s assurance to TM Retail was based on a mistaken view of the law, since a successful appeal by one addressee of a decision does not normally let non-appellants off the hook.  However, following the successful CAT appeal in 2011, the OFT decided to honour its assurance to TM Retail.  TM Retail’s penalty was repaid (although for reasons which need not detain us the OFT has refrained from calling it a ‘repayment’).  But the OFT also decided that, given that it had not given any similar assurance to Gallaher or Somerfield, it would not repay their penalties.

Gallaher and Somerfield challenged the OFT’s decision on fairness grounds.  The Court of Appeal has now held that the OFT, now the Competition and Markets Authority, is obliged by principles of fairness to treat Gallaher and Somerfield in the same way as it treated TM Retail.  That will mean repaying their penalties, at a cost of something north of £50 million.

The Court of Appeal’s decision recognises that the requirements of fairness will depend on all the circumstances of the case.  The decision is therefore based very heavily on the particular facts of this case.  Of particular importance was the fact that all ERA parties were told that they would be treated equally.  They therefore had a strong expectation of equal treatment.

Nonetheless, the case raises some important questions.

Firstly: what is the significance of detrimental reliance in an equal treatment case?  In cases concerning legitimate expectations, itself a branch of the law of fairness, it is generally the case that a party will not succeed unless he shows that he has suffered some detriment in reliance on the expectation in question.

In this case, Gallaher and Somerfield could not say that the OFT’s assurance to TM Retail was what made them decide not to appeal against the infringement decision.  They didn’t know about the assurance when they chose not to appeal.  The Court of Appeal answers this point by remarking at [44] that:

“the only reason why the appellants could not have claimed that they relied on assurances of the type given to TM Retail was because such assurances had not been given to them …”

But the question is surely not whether Gallaher and Somerfield could “claim” to have relied on assurances: it is whether or not they did in fact rely on such assurances.  They did not.  The absence of such a factor must be relevant to an assessment of what is fair in all the circumstances.

Secondly: what is the significance of the fact that assuring equal treatment will end up costing the public purse a huge amount of money?

The Court does not go into this question in any detail.  It rejects, as a statement of general principle, the contention endorsed by the High Court that a mistake should not be replicated where public funds are concerned.  Instead all depends on the circumstances.  But the Court’s discussion of the circumstances does not consider the significance of the impact on the public purse.

Of course, the point cuts both ways because the heavy impact on the public purse if the penalties are repaid is the mirror-image of the impact of the unequal treatment on Gallaher and Somerfield if the penalties are not repaid.  There is, however, an important question of principle as to how to balance the desirability of ensuring equal treatment, on the one hand, against the unattractiveness of requiring public bodies to magnify their errors at great expense, on the other.  The Court of Appeal explains in detail why the former consideration should weigh heavily in favour of repayment, but it remains unclear whether, or in what circumstances, such factors may be counter-balanced by public expense considerations.

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Gallaher and Somerfield: will the CMA change its approach to settlement?

The latest episode in the tobacco litigation saga has seen Gallaher and Somerfield’s attempt to benefit from the collapse of the OFT’s case in November 2011 rejected by the High Court in R (Gallaher Group Limited and Ors) v Competition and Markets Authority [2015] EWHC 84 (Admin). Although the CMA will breathe a sigh of relief, Collin J’s critical judgment will give it food for thought on how it conducts early resolution negotiations in competition infringement cases in future. Continue reading

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A family affair: parental liability for joint ventures

It is trite law that a parent company will be liable for antitrust infringements committed by a subsidiary where the parent exercises “decisive influence” over the conduct of the subsidiary. Earlier this year the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) illustrated just how difficult it will be for a company to rebut the presumption of “decisive influence” in the context of a wholly-owned subsidiary (see Kieron Beal’s post here). In two decisions published on Thursday last week, the CJEU pushed the boundaries of parental liability even further, holding that parent companies may be liable for infringements committed by their joint venture companies.

This further affirmation that antitrust liability truly is a “family affair” is likely to have significant and far-reaching implications for the shareholders of such joint ventures. Continue reading

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Competition round-up: Summer 2013

It is time for what has become the Competition Bulletin’s regular half-yearly update of EU and UK competition law developments. (For our previous round-ups see here).

Thinking big Continue reading

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Filed under Abuse, Agreements, Conflicts, Damages, Free movement, IP, Mergers, Penalties, Pharmaceuticals, Policy, Procedure, Procurement, Round-Up, State aid, Telecoms

Competition round-up: January 2013

As today is the first day of the new court term, I thought it would be a good moment for a round-up of last term’s competition cases – and, of course, the customary plug of our own blogs.

If there was a theme to the Michaelmas term, it was the highs and lows of follow-on claims. Few pieces of legislation can have attracted so much judicial attention in so short a time as s.47A of the Competition Act 1998. It has now gone as far as the Supreme Court, which confirmed in BCL Old Company Ltd v BASF plc [2012] UKSC 45 that the rules governing limitation periods for bringing follow on claims in the CAT are not so unpredictable as to breach European principles of legal certainty (a topic which I blogged on here). Continue reading

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Competition round-up: Summer 2012

As most of us are now returned from our summer holidays, I thought I’d take advantage of the ‘back to school’ feeling with a round-up of the most significant competition cases since Easter. This also provides a good excuse to highlight the best blogs from the Competition Bulletin’s first couple of months.

I’ll start with a case that should, but probably won’t, make the law reports: the decision of the Appeal Panel of the Rugby Football Union, which held in an appeal by London Welsh that the RFU rules on primacy of tenure are contrary to Articles 101 and 102 TFEU and therefore void. The case is notable not only for the finding itself, but also because it was heard and decided so quickly – arguments which would take days in the High Court (and probably weeks in the CAT) were heard over the course of a day, and the 38-page judgment completed the following day. James Segan blogged on the case here.

There has been much good news for claimants in follow-on damages claims. Continue reading

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Fairness between infringers: the need for consistency in punishments

Competition lawyers may want to brush up on their criminal law. The Court of Appeal’s recent judgment in Interclass Holdings v OFT [2012] EWCA Civ 1056 borrows criminal law principles to guide the calculation of penalties imposed.

The appeal was a further instalment in the litigation arising from the OFT’s largest ever investigation under the Competition Act 1998 concerning collusive tendering practices in the construction industry. A round of litigation before the Tribunal had resulted in substantial reductions in the fines imposed by the OFT on many of the appellant undertakings. This further appeal by Interclass concerned the application by the Tribunal of a 100 per cent uplift to the provisional fine payable by Interclass with the intention of adequately deterring both Interclass and other undertakings from committing infringements in the future.

The Court of Appeal accepted that the Tribunal had correctly followed a staged approach to the calculation of the penalty, beginning with starting figures based on the seriousness of the infringements and then proceeding to consider whether an uplift should be applied for deterrence.

However, the Court borrowed two important concepts from criminal law. Continue reading

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