COVID-19 restrictions mean that we have yet to see whether a predicted increase in ‘dawn raids’ by the EU’s competition regulator in Ireland will materialise, according to competition lawyers at Matheson LLP.
Dawn raids are unannounced inspections at a business premises, carried out by competition regulators to gather evidence for investigations.
In a note on the firm’s website, Kate McKenna and Mollie Barlow say that the first EU regulatory inspections since the start of the pandemic took place recently, with the European Commission’s competition watchdog DG Comp revealing that it carried out an unannounced inspection in Germany as part of a cartel investigation.
The regulator said the raid was “conducted in compliance with COVID-19 health-and-safety protocols in order to protect all individuals involved”.
Fewer on-site inspections
The Matheson lawyers say some commentators have predicted a rise in EU inspections in Ireland, as its regulators can no longer carry out such raids in the UK, and many UK-headquartered international businesses also have offices in Ireland.
They add that there has been no report of any dawn raid in Ireland by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) since pandemic restrictions were introduced, with the competition body also reporting a reduction in on-premises inspections during 2020 due to COVID-19.
There have, however, been a limited number of physical inspections of grocery premises, in particular to check their compliance with consumer-law rules on displaying the selling price of goods offered for sale.
“With limited ability to carry out on-premises inspections, the CCPC has stated that it has shifted its consumer-law-enforcement focus to inspections of retailers’ websites,” say the Matheson lawyers.
Bill removes uncertainty
They also warn that Irish businesses should note a proposed change in Irish law relevant to dawn raids.
When enacted, the Garda Síochána (Powers) Bill will make it an offence not to give phone passwords to the CCPC during a dawn raid after a court warrant.
The CCPC may seek such a warrant — even where it does not yet suspect that any offence has been committed.
“We understand that the intention of this bill is to remove any legal uncertainty as to whether passwords must be handed over, pursuant to existing laws against obstruction of dawn raids, rather than to substantially change the law,” the lawyers say.