In what could herald the most significant changes to the UK competition regime in 25 years, the UK Government has announced a series of proposed reforms to UK competition law enforcement. The stated aims of the reforms are to produce a “best in class” competition regime to allow the UK to exploit post-Brexit opportunities, whilst also helping the Government address other challenges – including its ”build back better” recovery strategy, its pre-Covid “levelling-up” agenda, and harnessing the benefits (and reducing the consumer risks) of an increasingly digitalised economy.
The proposed reforms announced on 22 July 2021 are wide-ranging and include:
In addition to the above proposals, the Government notes recommendations made in preceding reviews (including the Furman Review and the Penrose Report) regarding potential changes to the standard of review and procedures of the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) where it reviews the CMA’s CA98 decisions. Although it has not put forward any specific proposals in this respect, the Government has asked views on the appropriate level of judicial scrutiny of the CMA’s decisions, and whether there are alternative standards of review or changes to CAT procedures which should be considered, to improve the efficiency of enforcement while at the same time maintaining a robust process that produces high quality decisions.
The Government has also launched a separate consultation (‘A new pro-competition regime for digital markets’) on the Digital Markets Unit. For more detail, please see our article ‘Sending out an SMS’ – UK proposes powers for regulating digital markets. It is noteworthy that the Government launched both consultations on the same day and for the same period, particularly given the wide-ranging reforms envisaged in both. The Government is evidently keen to get moving on widespread change to the competition regime, partly also in response to the CMA’s increased role on the international stage following Brexit.
The Government is now consulting on the competition and consumer law measures proposed – see Reforming competition and consumer policy. Interested parties have until 1 October 2021 to provide feedback.