Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Tuesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) notes that American law firms are beefing up their London presence at the tacit urging of the Office of Fair Trading. The OFT views their aggressive civil lawsuits against firms accused of price fixing as an effective remedy for the practice, which has only been a crime in Britain for a few years and is still rarely enforced.

This marks an apparent change in strategy for the UK government, which had previously pursued dubious extradition cases at the behest of the US government, where the latter felt it could make a case that the alleged price fixing by UK firms affected US consumers. Hence the case of Ian Norris.

The UK government has now apparently balked at the potential implication of this case that price fixing might always have been a crime, even before there was relevant legislation, because it could always be repackaged as conspiracy to defraud. Yet it seems that it is inviting in US legal expertise to make the same implication in civil, rather than criminal court.

UPDATE 26 JANUARY: The government will soon have to take a position on whether American prosecutors get to retroactively criminalise actions taken in the belief they were legal in the UK. Norris has lost his High Court appeal and can only now go to the House of Lords and maybe the European Court of Human Rights. And [26 MAY] a verdict in the Norris appeal is imminent.1

FINAL UPDATE 7 JUNE: One person has managed to beat the new extradition regime: Beatrice Tollman, but only on grounds of ill-health. The dubious principle that underlies all these extraditions remains unchallenged.

1He got leave to appeal; his case is now pending before the House of Lords

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