As we can see, there are two dimensions of ne bis in idem. On the one hand, we can find the so-called objective or substantive phase, that is to say, a person cannot be judged and punished twice for the same facts. On the other hand, there is the procedural aspect, which pursues to prevent that a person be subject to several procedures for the same facts.
In competition law, this principle may be applicable when criminal and administrative prosecution coexist (cartel cases). In fact, most of the authorities in charge of the prosecution, investigation and punishment of anticompetitive conducts are administrative bodies not criminal prosecutors or judges, except in cartel cases where there is some intersection between both institutions. The problem arises from the fact that administrative and criminal law authorities may prosecute, investigate and, eventually, decide upon the same facts or the same persons. Therefore, as an expression of administrative law proceedings, the principles of criminal law -being one of them the ne bis in idem- must be applied for establishing these responsibilities.
Nonetheless, it is very infrequent to find cases where prosecutions are considered unlawful on the basis of this principle. Anyway, this dilemma may also be resolved in two ways. The first one is practical: in most cartel cases the economic agent that is condemned differs in the administrative and criminal procedures and thus, the condition called “unity of offender”, required by the ne bis in idem principle, is not fulfilled. Indeed, generally the corporate entity (undertaking) is fined by the competition authority (administrative procedure), whereas the executives or representatives involved in the cartel are accused by criminal prosecutors. The second approach is appealing to the principle under which different liabilities can coexist for the same fact if the assertion of those liabilities responds to different objectives or legal interests protected. In other words, if the punitive ground is different, there is not a violation of ne bis in idem. However, this distinction is not totally clear in the prosecution of cartels. In fact, while competition law pursues the protection of the competitive process and consumer welfare, criminal law pursues a similar objective, that is, to protect the economic order, in a broader sense.