Jo Swinson announces consultation on streamlining businesses’ appeal process

From The Guardian:

The ability of big business to deploy armies of lawyers to prevent regulators from introducing consumer-friendly measures will be curbed under proposals published by the government on Wednesday.

The Business minister, Jo Swinson, is proposing a streamlined appeals system for challenging decisions by the UK’s economic regulators, which include Ofcom, the Competition Commission, Ofwat and the Office of the Rail Regulator.

Over the last five years there have been more than 50 appeals of regulatory and competition decisions.Legal challenges have caused delays to the 4G telecoms auction, tied up Welsh utility Albion Water in five years of appeals, and dragged Ofcom and BSkyB into a five year battle over pay-TV pricing.

“Under the current system, every penny one of the incumbent companies spends on lawyers and delaying change is money well spent,” said a telecoms industry source. “There is a massive incentive to unpick decisions through technicalities.”

Jo said when she announced the consultation, which will run until September this year:

The UK’s appeal rules work well and we have a world-class framework in place. But we also recognise that there is room for improvement to support growth.

It is only right that firms can hold regulators and competition authorities to account when they think the wrong decision has been reached. But it is in nobody’s interest that appeals end up being unnecessarily lengthy and costly.

A new streamlined system will mean that businesses see their appeals sorted quicker and that they and regulators spend less time and legal resources on disputes. Reduced delays will help build a stronger economy and provide better outcomes for consumers.

This one made me think a bit about my prejudices. If Theresa May announced a streamlining of the immigration appeals process, I’d be up in arms, but because it’s Jo Swinson curbing the excesses of big business, I can’t see too much wrong with it. Of course, the very real concerns of asylum seekers and families seeking to bring their loved ones to this country, and the ability of the UK Border Agency to get it spectacularly wrong make me worry about any attempt to diminish the rights of people who are already pretty powerless. Large corporations trying to renege on their obligations to their consumers, on the other hand, do not attract quite so much of my compassion.

Every decision maker has to be held to account and every decision maker will get things wrong, but it shouldn’t take years of expensive legal limbo to sort it all out. I can’t quite see how they will get all the appeals done in 12 weeks, though. The Competition Appeals Tribunal currently aims to complete appeals on “straightforward” cases in 9 months. There’s an organisation that’s going to get a bit of a culture change if this goes ahead…

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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5 Comments

  • Maybe the rules can be changed so that lawyers fees for businesses are not tax deductible.

  • “Over the last five years there have been more than 50 appeals of regulatory and competition decisions.”

    I suspect that these cases need to be more closely looked at. For example, according to a recent news item from Albion Water, an aspect of the Albion Water case was “Ofwat, the regulator, failed to identify this behaviour [Welsh Water’s abuse of its control of the pipeline network by imposing excessive charges.] despite frequent and, as it transpires, accurate warnings from Albion. Indeed Ofwat spent many millions of pounds of public funds in trying and failing to defend its original conclusion that Welsh Water was innocent of any wrongdoing.” [Source: http://www.albionwater.co.uk/news.php ]

    So it does look like the CQC isn’t the first regulator to try to cover up it’s failings to prevent consumer-friendly actions to be taken …

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Jun '13 - 10:20am

    This appears to be deeply authoritarian and I am concerned by it. What does streamlining mean? We should not be trying to shackle the legal system or put it in the government’s favour.

    You rightly examine your prejudices and say because it is big business you don’t feel much sympathy for it, but I think that is wrong . “Consumer friendly” regulation can be very damaging to businesses, put up prices and from my experience even be totally against the consumer’s interests.

    From my experience in financial services, the regulator is often years out of date and if you innovate and find a new way of doing things that are better for the consumer, sometimes you can’t implement it because “government says no”. I am really strict with these kind of things but many others just resort to ignoring the regulator and taking the chance that they won’t find out.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Jun '13 - 10:51am

    Alistair, how is that fair? We should not be discouraging businesses from hiring lawyers, the government and the regulators are not always right – the law should be scrutinised. Often they have been regulated due to pressure from lobbyists by the competition, such as the case with E cigarettes or the olive oil manufacturers.

    The language used by the Guardian is so biased it’s unbelievable: “armies” of lawyers and “consumer friendly” regulation.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Jun '13 - 11:30am

    Finally, the Guardian makes out that this piece of action will target “big business”, but regulation affects all businesses in the industry and it is often the smaller ones that are hurt the most.

    Jo Swinson says: “…it is in nobody’s interest that appeals end up being unnecessarily lengthy and costly.”

    So what about deportation cases? One rule for the government and another for everyone else, this is why this piece of action is authoritarian.

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