Competition watchdog wins legal fight over construction cartel raids

CMA construction
(Photo: Timon Schneider |

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has won a legal challenge in the High Court relating to home search warrants as part of a cartel investigation.

Last October, the CMA applied for warrants to search business and domestic premises as part of its investigation into suspected anti-competitive conduct regarding the supply of chemical admixtures for use in the construction industry. The CMA conducted raids to gather evidence as part of its investigation.

While the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) granted warrants authorising the CMA to search three business premises in England and Scotland, it refused the warrant regarding the domestic property.

The CAT said the CMA needed to identify specific evidence demonstrating that an occupier of the property had a “propensity” to destroy physical or electronic documents held on their property – as their suspected involvement in a secret cartel was not enough.

The CMA was concerned the decision would damage its ability to gather the necessary evidence to effectively investigate and enforce against secret cartels, particularly given the CAT’s indication that the warrants judgment was a guideline case to be followed in the future.

An important ruling

The CMA applied to the High Court for judicial review in December 2023. This week the court found the CAT had “erred in law” when it refused to grant the CMA a warrant to enter a domestic property, “exceeded its powers” in other respects, and that the CAT’s judgment should not therefore be followed in future cases.

CMA’s chief executive, Sarah Cardell, said: “We welcome this important ruling from the High Court, which found comprehensively in our favour on all three grounds.  

“The original judgment by the CAT risked seriously undermining our ability to enforce effectively against illegal cartels.

“With the increase in remote working – and electronic communication – it’s essential that we are able to search domestic premises to secure evidence of potential breaches of competition law where appropriate to do so.”

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