The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) yesterday (24 September) promised to push through measures that would make it easier for individuals and smaller businesses to seek compensation from anti-competitive groups.
The OFT held a briefing on private enforcement as part of its ongoing discussions on the topic. It follows the April publication of a discussion paper on private actions (see The Lawyer, 23 April). It will present its final proposals on private competition actions to the government by the end of the year, promised OFT chairman Philip Collins.
The last few months have seen several firms planning to capitalise on a predicted boom in private actions — both defending companies and, for firms such as Cohen Milstein Hausfeld & Toll, representing plaintiffs — by launching private action teams. The most recent additions to that list are Lovells and Addleshaw Goddard.
Several ideas were floated during yesterday’s briefing, including the creation of an ombudsman to oversee private enforcement; and the introduction of an “opt-out” system for plaintiffs to replace the present “opt-in” one. Currently, to be part of a representative action, consumers have to actively join a class. An opt-out system would be the reverse: individuals harmed by proven anti-competitive behaviour would automatically be included in the group unless they specifically asked not to be.