Competition law rules aim to ensure that markets work well for consumers and deliver the expected benefits of rivalry between suppliers competing to win business.
We understand competition issues and have the expertise and experience to cut through the legal and technical detail to give clear and practical advice in any situation and having regard to commercial realities. Combining this ability with the experienced and specialist lawyers within our wider dispute resolution team enables us to analyse and advise upon issues and devise a strategy for furthering or protecting our clients’ interests whether acting as claimants or defendants.
The competition law rules which are applicable in the UK derive from specific UK legislation (namely the Competition Act 1998 and the Enterprise Act 2002) together with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (and notably Articles 101 and 102 TFEU).
At their most basic, both UK and EU competition rules prohibit:
- Agreements between businesses which prevent, restrict or distort competition (Chapter 1 Competition Act and Article 101 TFEU), and
- Abuse by a business of a dominant position (Chapter 2 Competition Act and Article 102 TFEU).
Examples of agreements which prevent, restrict or distort competition include cartels (market-sharing, price-fixing or bid-rigging) between competitors as well as restrictive terms in distribution agreements regarding the prices at which goods are resold, or the customers to whom or territories to which goods are resold, by the buyer. However, many other types of commercial arrangements and practices may also raise competition law questions. Examples of abuses of dominance include the charging of predatory, excessive or discriminatory prices, or other commercial conduct such as refusal to deal or the tying and bundling of goods or services which excludes competitors or exploits customers.
The differences between UK and EU rules are principally jurisdictional with UK law applying where the agreement or conduct in question affects trade only in the UK, and EU law applying where the agreement or conduct in question affects trade between EU member states.
Non-compliance with applicable competition rules is a serious matter for businesses since breaches of the rules are subject to investigation and heavy sanctions by competition enforcement agencies, notably the Competition and Markets Authority and the European Commission. Principal sanctions include the imposition of very significant fines, but other consequences of infringing competition law include unenforceability of agreements, as well as the possibility of private actions being brought by victims of anti-competitive behaviour.
Examples of such private actions might include a purchaser who has bought goods or services from a cartel participant claiming redress for the higher prices paid and consequent loss of profits, or a claim for injunctive relief and/or damages by a victim of abusive conduct.