Finally, a few months late, the UK moves to implement the EU Consumer Injunctions Directive, and there’s not much time to go!
Topic: Consumer protection
New development: Implementation of the EU Consumer Injunction Directive
Unlike a number of European states, the UK has no tradition of empowering bodies speaking for particular interest groups to take representative action through the courts to enforce legislation. It has been left largely to trading standards officers and their local authorities to enforce "public" law controls such as those governing package travel and distance selling. Even then, their weaponry has been limited, except in extreme cases, to the blunt instrument of the criminal prosecution before the local magistrate or Crown Court, with a fine on conviction in the vast majority of cases. And then the defendant is free to leave the court and offend again without fear of necessarily receiving a much greater punishment next time around. Now all that is going to change.
What will change:
Following the signing off of the EU Consumer Injunctions Directive, all member states were obliged to give the Directive the force of law in their countries by 1 January 2001. The Directive laid down that consumer bodies in the EU, once they had met certain qualifications, should have the legal right to apply to the courts for injunctions against traders. The unfortunate traders in the firing line would be those who breached rules based on any one of seven different EU Directives introduced in recent years. These include those governing misleading and comparative advertising, distance selling, drug advertising, consumer credit and package travel. The penalty faced by the trader will be a so-called "Stop Now" order preventing further conduct of the kind complained of, failing which the trader can be pursued for contempt of court and ultimately imprisoned.
It will not be open season for the consumer bodies. The Office of Fair Trading will have co-ordinating powers so as to prevent multiple actions in parallel against any particular trader. Those contemplating an application to the court will also have to give the OFT warning and two weeks notice of any contemplated court application, although in appropriate cases the OFT can shorten this.
One particular innovation will be the power of qualifying consumer bodies in any other EU member state to come before the English courts and seek relief against traders. Another is that consumer bodies apart, trading standards will have the power to apply for "Stop Now" orders, another string to their bow and an answer to their long standing prayers for more powers against rogue traders.
Amongst the examples cited by the DTI of the new rules in action are an application by UK trading standards against unsolicited mailshots from outside the UK giving the recipient the impression they have won a major cash prize, which they can collect on payment of a £10 administration fee. In a distance selling context, the Consumers’ Association no doubt the first of many consumer bodies to appear as awareness of this new development grows, will have power to take to court the proprietors of the many websites who it is said are still failing to include even the basic disclosure required by the Distance Selling Regulations.
The plan is to have the new regulations in force by June 1 2001.
What happens next:
The appearance of the new regulations, then on June 1, implementation.