New price watchdog to protect shoppers
A RANGE of criminal investigation powers will be given to a new consumer protection agency to prosecute price-fixing cartels that push up prices for shoppers.
Offenders also face prohibition notices, compliance notices, on-the-spot fines for offences relating to price display and being named and shamed for failing to comply with consumer law.
Telephone and internet service providers will also be required to retain details of internet and call data for up to two years to ensure the data is available for the investigation, detection and prosecution of serious competition offences.
Agreements between competitors to fix prices, limit production or sales, or share markets or customers are regarded as costing consumers more through higher prices.
Jobs Minister Richard Bruton will bring the Consumer and Competition Act to Cabinet, which will merge the Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is intended to be a strong consumer watchdog with real teeth to stamp out abuses. The creation of the new body will be agreed by the Government tomorrow.
The legislation will give new criminal investigation powers to the new merged bodies to make it easier to investigate and prosecute serious competition offences like cartels and price-fixing.
The bill builds on the existing consumer protection legislation, by granting further enforcement powers.
Misleading commercial practices will be clamped down on, including false, misleading or deceptive information, competitor or product confusion in marketing or advertising, withholding and omitting or concealing material information.
Breaches of competition law will be viewed as serious white-collar crimes and the powers available for investigating offences will include:
* More effective use of detention periods where a person is being questioned about a relevant offence.
* Applications to court for an order to require any person with relevant information to produce documents, answer questions and provide information for investigations by the consumer protection agency.
* Reducing the delays associated with the production of large volumes of poorly ordered and uncategorised documents in the course of investigations.
* Measures to prevent unnecessary delays in investigations arising from claims of legal privilege.
* An offence relating to failure to report information.
* Protection of whistleblowing employees from penalisation for disclosing information relating to relevant offences.
The new legislation will also allow for taped witness interviews to be introduced as evidence in court in certain circumstances.
The numbers of staff working for the new body will also be increased.