The Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) announced on 12 April 2016 that a provider of on-line training services, Socrates Training Limited (Socrates), has issued a claim against the Law Society of England and Wales, alleging that it is in breach of the Competition Act 1998. The claim relates to the provision of accreditation services by the Law Society. Socrates claims that the Law Society is in a dominant position, which it is abusing by requiring conveyancers to use the Law Society’s own anti-money laundering and mortgage fraud training to gain accreditation.
Socrates has applied for the claim to be managed under the new “Fast Track” procedure, introduced by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which is intended to assist small businesses in bringing damages claims, where they believe they are being adversely affected by anti-competitive behaviour. Under this procedure, the CAT should hear the case within 6 months of approving the application to use the Fast Track.
Key questions for the CAT if the claim is pursued include:
- how the “relevant market” should be defined; and
- if the Law Society is found to be dominant in the relevant market, whether its requirement that conveyancers use its own training constitutes an unlawful tie.
This is only the third application for Fast Track treatment of a claim. If approved, this would be the first case to proceed on the Fast Track, as the two previous claims were both settled out of court.
This case will be followed with interest, not only for the subject matter but, if it is allowed to proceed on the Fast Track, as an indication of how the process works on a practical level.
You can read the CAT’s full notice here.