An Office of Fair Trading (OFT) consultation document on leniency for whistleblowers in cartel cases has been met with a negative reaction from the legal profession
The paper, published on 15 July, outlines the circumstances in which the OFT will grant individuals immunity from criminal prosecution by issuing them 'no action' letters under the proposed Enterprise Bill. Such letters will guarantee immunity for those who have admitted "dishonesty", but who did not play a leading role or instigate the cartel. Although a similar programme has worked effectively in the US, some lawyers are concerned that it may not be the case in the UK. "Turning in Queen's evidence in return for a personal benefit has not got a very robust history in this country," said Herbert Smith competition partner Dorothy Livingston. "The term 'dishonesty' is hopelessly vague and very difficult to apply in this area," said Sean-Paul Brankin, a competition lawyer at Lovells. "And the concept of instigator or leading role is a potential minefield." Individuals will be unlikely to come forward with evidence without being 100 per cent certain that their immunity is guaranteed. The bill is now at the committee stage with the House of Lords, so there may well be changes before it is passed. It is on track to gain royal assent in the autumn and to be in force by the spring.