Supermarkets braced for £25m investigation fees

The UK’s big-four supermarkets are expecting astronomical legal fees in the wake of the Competition Commission’s investigation into the grocery sector.

Asda, J Sainsbury, Tesco and Wm Morrison are expecting a combined legal bill in excess of £25m after the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) referred the grocery sector investigation to the Competition Commission this month.

Asda UK legal director Ellie Doohan, who is using Slaughter and May for the investigation, told The Lawyer that legal fees were a cause for concern. “As we’ve been through a number of [Competition Commission] inquiries, we’ve not been shy in asking our advisers for a ‘buy one, get one free’ deal on their fees,” she said. “We thought a [Competition Commission] referral unnecessary, but we’re pleased that the report highlights that planning is a concern – we share that concern.”

Other sources close to the case said supermarkets were anticipating legal fees to as much as double, based on the bills from a similar probe six years ago.

One source said: “The breadth of the investigation is wider this time and we expect it to carry on much longer – it cost about £20m the last time and we expect it will be significantly more this time.”

Linklaters is acting for Sainsbury’s, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is advising Tesco and Ashurst is acting for Wm Morrison.