The recently published Competition (Amendment) Bill 2011 aims to provide more effective deterrents for individuals and organisations engaging in anti-competitive practices. The Bill is seen as a step towards satisfying a commitment to enhance the enforcement of competition law in Ireland made to the IMF-EU-ECB troika.
The key features of the Bill are:
- an increase of the maximum prison sentence for conviction of an offence relating to anticompetitive agreements, decisions and concerted practices from 5 to 10 years;
- large increases in fines for competition offences;
- a party convicted of competition offences may be liable for costs of investigation and court proceedings for the first time;
- it will be possible to disqualify a person convicted of non-indictable competition offences from being a company director;
- a person convicted of certain competition offences will not be eligible for probation; and
- it will be easier for private individuals affected by anti-competitive practices to prove an action for damages once public enforcement proceedings have successfully been taken.
While these changes are welcomed as a tool to deter breaches of competition law in Ireland, it is arguable that the real challenge lies in active enforcement rather than the absence of suitable sanctions. The Competition Authority’s relative lack of resources is believed to be the main factor in the dearth of enforcement actions in Ireland. This renders the changes to the rules regarding actions by private litigants less relevant as they rely on prior public enforcement proceedings.
We understand that further changes to Irish competition law, not addressed by this Bill, such as amendments to the merger control regime, may be under consideration.