The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has been given a mandate to increase its in-house legal department by 20 per cent to cope with its enhanced powers in competition and consumer regulation, and is targeting City firms for recruits
The decision to hire around six new lawyers has been prompted by the body's increased caseload under the Competition Act 1998 and the prospect of further growth as a result of the Enterprise Bill. The OFT already has 30 lawyers, compared with 21 in 2000. The Enterprise Bill, expected to be published in the next few months, will give the OFT new powers to investigate markets to ensure they work well for consumers and will introduce the opportunity for consumer groups to bring super complaints to the OFT. It will also add a new criminal offence for cartels, under which company directors can be imprisoned for price fixing. OFT lawyers have been contributing to instructions on the bill and will be actively involved in the review of clauses and contributing to guidance notes and internal procedures manuals. The department is hoping to attract City-calibre competition lawyers, while applicants for the consumer regulation team are expected from a more diverse background. Louis Christofides, legal branch director for competition, said the growth reflected increased staffing across the OFT. "Our client-base is increasing so we need more lawyers to deal with the legal work," he said. "This is a tremendous opportunity to be involved at an early stage, while the legislation is still being drafted."