OFT PUBLISHES NEW GUIDANCE ON CARTEL LENIENCY APPLICATIONS

Office of Fair Trading logoOn 8 July 2013, the UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) published its final revised Guide to applications for leniency and no-action in cartel cases. The Guide, which took effect on publication, follows two consultations on the draft revisions, the second of which specifically addressed the issue of waiver of legal privilege in leniency applications (covered in paragraphs 3.15 to 3.23 of the Guide).

The OFT has announced that it will no longer require leniency applicants in cartel cases to waive legal privilege under any circumstances. The existing policy is that while waivers are not required in civil competition investigations, they may be in certain circumstances in criminal cases. Applicants may still be asked if they are willing to waive legal privilege, but a refusal to do so will not have any adverse consequences for the leniency application.

The decision not to insist on waiver of legal privilege has been made primarily due to concerns that any requirement would act as a disincentive to potential leniency applicants. In particular, if applicants feel unable to make full and frank disclosure to their legal advisers then it is difficult for them to obtain proper advice in order to make an informed decision about action to take in relation to any cartel activity, especially given that leniency is not usually confirmed until late in the process.

The OFT has also taken into account that many other competition authorities, such as the European Commission and the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division, do not require waiver as a condition of leniency, and the fact that the Government has confirmed that waiver of legal privilege will not be a condition of the proposed Deferred Prosecution Agreements.

While this change has been overwhelmingly welcomed, the introduction of a new independent counsel to which applicants may be required to submit material over which they are claiming privilege for assessment as to whether that claim is justified, is more controversial.

Critics have pointed out that the disclosure of materials to the independent counsel could result in a waiver of legal privilege over those documents in some jurisdictions, in particular the US. The OFT did not consider these concerns relevant because they deal with considerations outside of the UK legal framework. It remains to be seen whether companies, especially those with wide-ranging international interests, will consider this risk significant enough to deter them from taking part in the leniency process. There are also concerns that an appeal by a leniency applicant against a decision of the independent counsel that privilege does not apply may adversely affect the OFT’s view as to whether the applicant is complying with its obligation of continuous and complete cooperation under the leniency programme. The OFT has said that this will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

Despite these concerns, the decision by the OFT to change its policy and cease to require leniency applicants to waive legal privilege in both civil and criminal proceedings is a significant step forward, and demonstrates the results that robust responses to official consultations can achieve.

The OFT has also published two new Quick Guides to cartels and leniency, one for businesses and one for individuals.

This entry was posted in Leniency, OFT, UK by Michael O'Kane. Bookmark the permalink.

About Michael O'Kane

Michael O’Kane is a partner and Head of the Business Crime team at leading UK firm Peters & Peters. Described as ‘first-rate’ (Legal 500 2012), he “draws glowing praise from commentators” (Chambers 2013) for handling the international aspects of business crime, including sanctions, extradition and mutual legal assistance. Called to the Bar in 1992 and prior to joining Peters & Peters he was a senior specialist prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service Headquarters(CPS). At CPS HQ he was a key member of a small specialist unit responsible for the prosecution of serious and high profile fraud, terrorist and special interest criminal matters including the Stansted Airport Afghan hijacking and the prosecution of Paul Burrell (Princess Diana’s butler). Michael joined Peters & Peters in 2002. He became a partner in May 2004, and Head of the Business Crime team in May 2009. Since joining Peters & Peters, Michael has dealt with a wide range of business crime matters. He has particular expertise in international sanctions, criminal cartels, extradition, corruption, mutual legal assistance, and FSA investigations. Described as“ an influential practitioner in fraud and regulatory work, so much so that he is top of the referral lists of many City firms for independent advice for directors” (The Lawyer’s Hot 100 2009), he was recognised as one of the UK’s most innovative lawyers in the 2011 FT Innovative Lawyer Awards and included in the list of the UK's leading lawyers in 'The International Who's Who of Asset Recovery 2012. In 2012 he was the winner of the Global Competition Review Article of the Year. Michael regularly appears on television and radio to discuss his specialist areas and he is the author of the leading textbook on the UK Criminal Cartel Offence “The Law of Criminal Cartels-Practice and Procedure” (Oxford University Press 2009). Recent/Current Sanctions Work • Representing 109 individuals and 12 companies subject to designation by the European Council under targeted measures imposed against Zimbabwe. This is the largest and most complex collective challenge to a sanctions listing ever brought before the European Court. • Acting for a former Egyptian Minister and his UK resident wife, challenging their designation by the European Council of Ministers under targeted measures brought against former members of the Egyptian Government. • Advising a company accused in a UN investigation report to have breached UN sanctions imposed in relation to Somalia. • Advising a UK company in relation to ongoing commercial relationships with an Iranian company listed under both EU and UN sanctions. • Advising an individual in relation to a UK investigation for alleging breaching nuclear export controls.

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