09:59, May 26 580 0

2017-05-26 09:59:06
CAT rules against Norton Rose Fulbright client in Law Society training row

The Law Society is to reassess its conveyancing training after the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) ruled the body had “abused its dominant position” in the market.

Socrates Training, an online training provider, issued a claim last year arguing that conditions in the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) were “anti-competitive”.

Norton Rose Fulbright was brought on board by the Law Society to defend it against the claims, related to its CQS which provides accreditation for firms involved in residential conveyancing.

As part of the scheme, members are required to complete training in mortgage fraud and anti-money laundering (AML), with conditions meaning they must obtain the courses through the Law Society.

Socrates argued this was an “abuse of a dominant position”, as it too offers training for lawyers in AML, mortgage fraud and financial crime training.

Bernard George, the director of Socrates, said: “It was obvious what the Law Society was doing was not just illegal, but also desperately unfair to us and to law firms. The decision will be welcomed by solicitors up and down the country, who again will be free to buy the best training available, not just what the Law Society wants to sell them.

“It has been a long and gruelling battle but we felt we had no choice despite having to take on a powerful opponent, represented by a QC and one of the biggest law firms in the world.”

Mr Justice Roth ruled that the Law Society “was in a dominant position from the end of April 2015”.

The body said that the first two modules had been removed from the market as part of a reorganisation of the training offering, while the third module has now been withdrawn since the claim was filed last year.

Law Society president Robert Bourns said in a statement: “For the vast bulk of the time CQS training has been available it has been compliant with competition rules. I am certain that in setting CQS up, the Law Society acted in good faith and in the public interest.”

He added: “We note the decision and have and will take steps to avoid similar issues in the future.

Bernard George, director of Socrates and himself a solicitor, handled the litigation and instructed Monckton Chambers’ Philip Woolfe. Stephen Tupper of Tuppers Law, a competition law firm also provided advice.

The Law Society was represented by Norton Rose Fulbright and Monckton Chambers Kassie Smith QC.

The Tribunal will next assess damages. Socrates’ costs are over £300,000. In June 2016 the Law Society said it was planning to spend £637,000 defending the case.