One of the Competition and Markets Authority’s most senior lawyers has said that statutory timetables for market investigations have been challenging for the antitrust watchdog, which is currently reviewing legal services.

CMA general counsel Sarah Cardell (pictured) said the authority has extended the timetable for its investigation into the energy market so that members ‘had time to properly consider responses and ensure that any remedy package put forward is as comprehensive a solution as is reasonable and practicable to any competition problems identified in the final report’.

Cardell told the IBC UK Competition Law Conference in London that members ‘similarly expect an extension will be required’ for the CMA’s retail banking review.

Last month the CMA announced it was to examine ‘longstanding concerns about the affordability of legal services and standards of service’.

The market study, restricted to England and Wales, will examine:

  • Whether clients can drive effective competition by making informed purchasing decisions;
  • Whether clients are adequately protected from potential harm or can obtain satisfactory redress if legal services go wrong; and
  • How regulation and the regulatory framework impact on competition for the supply of legal services.

The probe will not extend to criminal legal services.

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 introduced statutory time limits for the implementation of remedies by the CMA to address the findings of market investigations.

According to guidance published on the CMA’s website, it must accept final undertakings or make a final order within six months of publishing its market investigation report. The six-month period includes a period of formal public consultation.

The CMA may extend the timetable by four months ‘if it considers that there are special reasons why final undertakings cannot be accepted or a final order made within the statutory deadline’.  

Cardell said the CMA would ‘need to consider the lessons’ from its energy and retail banking investigations, and ‘what this means for the processes we apply to our future market investigations work’.

The CMA expects to publish its conclusions of its legal services study ‘by the end of the year’.

Cardell said the CMA would also ‘give careful consideration’ to pursuing criminal proceedings against businesses that provide ‘false or misleading’ information during the course of any investigations.