Two recent Irish court rulings have helped to shed light on the role of the national courts in state aid cases. These cases are particularly relevant as the role of the courts is likely to continue to grow in importance for Irish clients in the coming years. In the first, the Supreme Court strongly affirmed the Circuit Court's jurisdiction to hear state aid allegations. In the second, the High Court determined that examinership does not trump a state aid decision from the European Commission ordering recovery.
The European Commission recently published a study which identifies the emerging trends and best practices with regard to the national courts' enforcement of state aid law across the European Union. In terms of trends, the study highlights that national courts rarely conclude that unlawful state aid has been granted (by their national authorities) and hence have rarely awarded remedies in favour of complainants that allege that state aid has been granted. This trend is particularly evident in relation to damages claims.
The European Commission recently published a new notice on the implementation of its decisions ordering the recovery of state aid. The recovery notice is far more detailed than the 2007 notice which it replaces and reflects recent developments in European Commission practice, including by providing more detail on tax state aid cases. For example, the notice provides new detailed guidance on issues such as the quantification of the state aid to be recovered.
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) recently introduced a new regime of administrative fines for data protection infringements and provided for a tiered penalty structure based on the nature of the infringement. However, the insurability of GDPR fines remains a grey area and there is a large question mark over whether such fines will be insurable in Ireland where there is an element of moral turpitude in the infringement.
Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe signed the EU (Insurance Distribution) Regulations 2018 (the IDD Regulations) into national law in June 2018. However, the implementation of the IDD Regulations was postponed until 1 October 2018 to provide the insurance industry with additional time to put in place the necessary organisational and technical changes required to ensure compliance. This article reviews the key changes resulting from the IDD Regulations.
A recently signed ministerial order marks the formal introduction of long-awaited periodic payment orders (PPOs) in Ireland. This should be a welcome development for insurers as it will avoid upfront compensation payments in catastrophic injury cases. It will also align the Irish regime of awards in case of catastrophic injury with the UK system, under which PPOs are already available.
Defender v HSBC highlights the need for plaintiffs to understand the blameworthiness of all wrongdoers before settling a claim against any of them. This case concerned Defender, a fund which invested with Bernard Madoff and subsequently suffered a loss when Madoff was revealed to be operating the world's largest Ponzi scheme.
The April 2018 decision of Bin Sun v Jason Price provides a useful summary of the circumstances in which a party can be joined as a co-defendant against the wishes of a plaintiff. It also provides clarity for insurers as to the circumstances in which they can seek to be joined to proceedings at first instance, which could prevent or substantially reduce their exposure in a subsequent application by a claimant to enforce against them.
The High Court recently dealt with a professional negligence claim following a retainer by a couple of a chartered engineering firm regarding the construction of their home in 2005. The defendants had brought a strike-out claim for a significant delay in the construction proceedings. On the facts of the case and owing to the fact that the defendant had been a professional person, the case was allowed to proceed on a limited basis.
Businesses with experience litigating in Ireland will be familiar with the discovery process and the onerous obligation to disclose all relevant documents which are in their power, possession or procurement. In an age when the volume of electronically stored information continues to increase exponentially, the costs and time involved in complying with discovery orders can often be disproportionate; however, change may be on the horizon.
Large corporates based in Ireland typically have a suite of non-life insurance policies to cover a variety of risks. Given the fact that the UK insurance market is the biggest in the European Union, it is likely that at least some of the policies held by corporates based in Ireland will have been written by UK or Gibraltar-licensed insurers. As such, whatever form Brexit ultimately takes, Irish policyholders with policies written by UK insurers must assess any risk to (among other things) their ability to renew.
Irish businesses trying to navigate the current Brexit landscape should consider the impact of events on their contractual relationships. As Brexit will directly or indirectly affect most, if not all, transactions between Irish and UK businesses or Irish businesses doing business in the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland), Irish suppliers must consider not only events which may directly affect them, but also their supply chain.
The Irish media merger regime has a long history and remains a complex part of Irish regulatory law and politics. Given the recent sharp increase in mergers of Irish and global media businesses – reflecting dramatic levels of decline in 'traditional' media consumption and 'e-substitution' leading to pressure to consolidate – the Irish media merger regime is affecting all corners of the global industry.
Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphries recently laid the Competition Act 2002 (Section 27) Order 2018 before the Houses of the Oireachtais. This will have the effect of increasing the financial thresholds for M&A requiring a notification to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. This is the first time that a minister has used their powers under Section 27 of the Competition Acts from 2002 to 2017.
The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation recently published legislation that substantially increases the financial thresholds at and above which notification of a transaction is required to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. From 1 January 2019, only mergers where the acquirer and target each generate €10 million or more and together generate €60 million or more turnover in Ireland will trigger mandatory notification.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission's (CCPC's) current scrutiny of the Restaurants Association of Ireland serves as a reminder that trade associations must be careful to stay within the lines and avoid encouraging or inadvertently facilitating anti-competitive agreements between their members. Compliance training is an essential tool to prevent unwanted scrutiny from the CCPC and other authorities.
Non-compete clauses can provide important protection for purchasers who have a legitimate interest in maintaining the value of the business they are acquiring. However, careful consideration must be given to the drafting of non-competes in order to avoid allegations of anti-competitive conduct – which is a criminal offence in Ireland – and scrutiny from competition regulators such as the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the European Commission.
A new bill has been proposed in the Oireachtas to grant the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) civil enforcement powers. At present, where the CCPC identifies a suspected breach of competition law, it must petition the court to impose criminal penalties. Under the amendment bill, the CCPC would be empowered to levy administrative fines against firms or individuals for anti-competitive practices. This would bring Ireland into line with most other EU member states.
Ireland has recently shown an increased interest in gun jumping, the prohibited practice of implementing a transaction without having first obtained merger control clearance. In February 2018 the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission confirmed that it had launched an investigation into suspected gun jumping by Armalou Holdings Limited of Lillis O'Donnell Motor Company Limited.
The Mediation Act 2017 recently entered into force. The act's objective is to promote mediation as an attractive alternative to court proceedings, in terms of time, cost, resources and the avoidance of acrimony. Although mediation may not be suitable for all disputes, the act provides a platform for parties to resolve their difficulties without commencing litigation where appropriate (albeit certain classes of case are excluded from its scope).