Judge ‘not inclined’ to postpone commencement of CMA cartel case trial

A judge this week said he was not inclined to postpone a June trial over the Competition and Markets Authority efforts to disqualify the former director of an estate agency for price-fixing unless it was shown that a key witness couldn’t testify.

Former estate agency director Michael Christopher Martin had urged High Court Judge Clive Jones to adjourn the forthcoming trial, pointing to the fact that it would need to be held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

His counsel maintained there was no realistic way of safely ensuring that Martin’s former secretary would be able to provide evidence in the case, since she lived in a rural area with a poor internet service and lived with someone who was considered vulnerable to the virus.

The latter point was the most persuasive, the judge said.

“The only matter that actually causes me to take the view that there might be an adjournment concerns the ability of [the secretary] to give evidence,” the judge said in his conditional ruling. “[But] I do not consider the evidence is strong enough at present to reach the conclusion that she can’t.”

The judge asked the parties to work together to see if the internet service could be upgraded for Martin’s former assistant, Claire Darby, or if there was a way she could safely be cross-examined at the offices of Martin’s solicitors or some other location.

“In these circumstances, I will refuse the application … on the basis that the parties will cooperate as I have said,” the judge said, adding he would make himself available for followup proceedings with the parties this week if the adjournment application needed to be restored.

The disqualification proceedings, scheduled to start on the 8th June stem from a 2017 fees cartel case brought by the CMA against several estate agents operating in Burnham-on-Sea in Essex, who the authority said had mutually agreed to fix minimum commission fees for their services.

EYE reported the story in February 2019

Competition watchdog asks High Court to disqualify two estate agency directors

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