OFT looks to lighten load with private antitrust enforcement

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is looking to lighten its workload by asking the private sector to boost antitrust efforts.

The OFT is preparing a response document in support of the European Commission’s green paper, which encourages private enforcement of antitrust cases.

In an exclusive interview with The Lawyer, OFT chairman Philip Collins said the regulator “strongly supported” the Commission’s move towards introducing reforms to help private parties pursue competition cases.

“It’s an important issue and it goes back to the proper use of public and private resources,” he said. “We’re looking at what we can do in the UK to promote private enforcement.”

The OFT chairman’s comments have provoked a mixed reaction from City competition lawyers.

One magic circle competition lawyer said the UK regulator was in danger of following in the footsteps of the US, where private action is sought after the regulator makes a judgment.

“This doesn’t result in more enforcement – just a huge amount of expenditure and a heavy burden on the so-called victim,” said the lawyer.

DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary competition partner Mike Pullen said private enforcement would be difficult for companies that did not have the powers to obtain evidence. “Unlike companies, regulators like the OFT have the powers to conduct dawn raids and demand documents and evidence to support the case,” he said.

Lovells global head of competition Susan Bright said: “The OFT and the Commission don’t have the resources to pursue every case… I think a lot of these proposals will take a long time to see the light of day.”