29th Jan 2013
New government measures to help small businesses fight anti-competitive practices that hamper growth have been announced today.
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The proposals are part of a wider government plan to make it easier for businesses and consumers to take legal action against price fixing.
One of the changes includes making the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) the main court for competition actions in the UK. The CAT will also feature a new fast-track system, which the government claims will help small businesses to resolve disputes quickly and cheaply.
"Actions like price-fixing or imposing unfair trading terms can really harm businesses, particularly small businesses, and restrict their ability to grow; and that is why we will create a fast-track system in the courts for businesses to restore justice as quickly as possible," said competition minister Jo Swinson.
"These changes will empower consumers and businesses, and continue to improve on the UK’s position as a world-class competition regime."
Another measure published today includes introducing a new opt-out collective actions regime. This means that representative bodies will be able to take a group or collective action in court, and affected businesses have to opt out if they don't want to be part of the claim.
However, Katja Hall, chief policy director at the Confederation of British Industry, accused the government of letting the litigation genie out of the bottle by adopting US-style collective actions.
"By grouping potential claimants together indiscriminately, these 'opt-out' actions fail the growth test and will fuel a litigation culture in the UK.
"It is absolutely right that victims of competition law breaches are properly and swiftly compensated but there are better ways to do this than resorting to litigation, like using alternative dispute resolution."
One other measure announced today does in fact include promoting alternative dispute resolution, to ensure that disputes are resolved without resorting to courts, therefore saving time and money.
The government has stated that safeguards will also be put in place to ensure fairness for businesses accused of anti-competitive behaviour themselves.
The changes are part of a government response to the consultation on 'Private Actions in Competition Law'.