CAT decision in Pernod Ricard case hikes rights of OFT complainants

A preliminary decision by the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) in the Pernod Ricard case means that complainants will have more rights in Office of Fair Trading (OFT) competition investigations.

The case, brought by DLA and Brick Court’s Nick Green QC for Pernod, was an appeal against the OFT’s decision to drop its investigations into Pernod’s bitter rival Bacardi.

Monckton Chambers’ Daniel Beard said: “The CAT has adopted EC [European Community]-type procedures… In future, complainants will have a greater say in OFT procedures. They will be able to see the Rule 14 notice [evidence against the company under investigation] and make representations earlier in the procedure.”

The OFT is considering an appeal against the decision, but said in a statement that it welcomed the CAT’s clarification of the involvement of complainants. The case also has implications for what constitutes an appealable decision.

The CAT was critical of the OFT’s handling of the investigation, saying it “was concerned to note that the OFT felt that by late 2002, after an apparently intensive two and a half-year investigation, it had not sufficiently determined the market”. A second hearing will address the factual question of whether the assurances Bacardi gave were sufficient to protect Pernod.

Mike Pullen, who led the case for Pernod, said: “Our client has already been put to significant and in our view unwarranted costs. I fail to see why our client should face further costs for the OFT to have a jurisdictional dispute with the tribunal, which has little or no chance of succeeding.”