On January 18, the CAT quashed the procedural timetable set by the CMA in the Phase 2 review of the Sainsbury’s/Asda merger. The CMA had given the parties a little over two weeks to respond to over 400 pages of working papers and scheduled the Main Party Hearings during the same period. The CAT found the deadlines were unreasonable and unfair given the volume and complexity of the papers, the CMA’s failure to engage in a longer pre-notification period despite the parties’ requests, and the overlap of the deadlines for the main hearing and response to the working papers. The CAT did not specify new deadlines, which were left to the CMA’s discretion, having regard to the overall statutory review period.

The CAT also highlighted the potential harm to the public interest created by “unreasonably compressed” time periods in which large and complex mergers must be completed. The CAT warned that “this problem is likely to be multiplied” if, post-Brexit, the CMA sees an increase in the number of large-scale, international mergers on its docket. It also expressed a hope that the statutory deadlines could be revised “to provide for the greater flexibility that is available under the EU merger regime” and for the Phase 2 deadlines to be specified in terms of working days, rather than weeks, to account for public holidays.