Lawyers hit back at OFT claims of legal hindrance

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has come under fire for its claims that a legal loophole is preventing it from forcing reluctant companies to hand over documents during its investigations.

OFT chief executive John Fingleton recently told MPs that there were problems with the 1998 Competition Act because, although the regulator required companies to provide information, it could only prosecute individuals for witholding documents or supplying false or misleading evidence.

The OFT argued that it struggled to identify specific people to prosecute because the majority of information was provided to the regulator by law firms representing the companies in question.

But competition lawyers have rejected the OFT’s claims, insisting it has ample powers to obtain documents from companies if need be.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer litigation partner Jon Lawrence, who specialises in competition and regulatory disputes, told The Lawyer: “I haven’t come across instances where the OFT’s investigations have been thwarted by tardy or incomplete information… Requests are often extensive and burdensome and [the companies involved] have to expend considerable effort, time and money to avoid the risk of sanctions.”

DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary competition partner Mike Pullen said the laws clearly gave the OFT powers to prosecute if companies failed to produce requested documents.

The OFT did not return The Lawyer’s calls.