European & competition law: area of practice (barristers)
European and competition law are separate areas, although much of the content of UK competition law has a European law influence.
European law governs a broad range of areas from the right to move to a different country, the payment of value added tax on goods and services, to sanctions on suspected terrorists.
Competition law regulates the conduct of businesses to ensure that a powerful business that dominates the market doesn’t abuse its strong position, such as by driving competitors out of the market or pricing exorbitantly. It also prohibits agreements between businesses which would have a negative effect on competition, like an agreement to price fix.
Regulations and damages
Points of European law can crop up in many different ways in a case before the English courts, which apply European law directly in the domestic proceedings. If the point of European law involved is unclear, it can be referred to the European Court of Justice. That can delay proceedings but makes for an interesting trip to the Luxembourg court and the chance to experience a different style of advocacy.
Competition law cases may involve damages claims in the wake of a cartel, or regulatory work such as a challenge to an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority or the resolution of a dispute by a regulatory body such as Ofcom or Ofgem. The work can involve economics, so you may find yourself needing to understand complex economic concepts and how they apply in a practical regulatory context.
Cartels, clients and cases
Clients in competition law cases can be regulators or entities that are regulated, such as utilities or telecoms providers, or someone who has breached competition law (such as a cartel) or their victim. European law affects a wide variety of persons. I’ve worked in cases involving a partner in a law firm claiming his compulsory retirement at 65 was a breach of EU age discrimination law, a property developer complaining that a competitor has received unlawful state aid through the way public land was sold, a postal services company wishing to dispute the non-application of VAT, and a public body defending a procurement challenge. A barrister in this area might spend roughly half of their time in court and half of their time in chambers over the course of a year. As with all litigation, there can be late nights in chambers, but compared to other areas of practice you can plan your time relatively easily.
European and competition law work has held up well during the recession, particularly because regulators are still under duty to regulate. Businesses still bring disputes and appeal against adverse outcomes, particularly because millions of pounds can be claimed in the event of success on one small legal point.
As a pupil
Our chambers’ policy is that pupils should work between 8.30 am and 6.30 pm each day (although that changes when you get into practice as a junior tenant!). Pupils have a varied diet, combining public, commercial, employment, and European and competition law. In relation to the latter two areas, your time will be spent drafting, working on pleadings and skeleton arguments as well as accompanying your supervisor to court. Pupils can be of real assistance to their supervisors: getting their heads around complex points in a competition law case, or researching the latest developments in European law from the case law of the Luxembourg court. If you have language skills, such as French, they can be put to good use because a very recent judgment may not have been translated into English. If you can read it, you’ll have faster access to the law.
Types of law practised
Good European/ competition barristers have...
- Analytical brainpower and an ability to deal with abstract concepts
- Excellent drafting skills
- An ability to understand new or complicated concepts very quickly
EMILY NEILL is a barrister at BLACKSTONE CHAMBERS. She graduated with a degree in Law with European legal studies from the University of Oxford and Université de Paris II in 2007 and completed the BCL at Oxford in 2009.