Consequences of Consumer Protection Law
Consumer protection is the practice of safeguarding buyers of goods and services, and the public, against unfair practices in the marketplace. Consumer protection measures are often established by law.(Wikipedia)
Consumer rights and consumer protection law also provides a way for individuals to fight back against abusive business practices. These laws are designed to hold sellers of goods and services accountable when they seek to profit by taking advantage of a consumer’s lack of information or bargaining power. Some conduct addressed by consumer rights laws is simply unfair, while other conduct can be described as outright fraud. Consumer rights laws exist at the federal and state level. They are enforced by government agencies, offices of attorneys general, and through individual and class action lawsuits filed by victims.
Hence consumer rights laws also protect the public from false or misleading advertising. For example, automobile dealers have been known to advertise a vehicle at a reduced price in order to draw shoppers to the dealership. Once they arrive, however, that vehicle or sales price is no longer available. The dealer will then pressure shoppers into purchasing a vehicle on less favorable terms. In addition to these “bait and switch” advertising tactics, consumer rights laws address things like warranty misrepresentation, defective products, forced arbitration clauses, identity theft, and other types of harassment and fraud.
However, most consumers in Nigeria have no idea if the law that protects them exist neither do they know that there is an agency designated to keep this charge nor the implications of the law
The Consumer Act is designed to promote a competitive market and to protect consumer rights in Nigeria. As well as prohibits unfair business practices or abuse of dominant market position by any company, as well as any agreement to restrain competition such as agreements for price fixing, price rigging, collusive tendering etc.
The Act meets most of the demands of the consumers however, there are various shortcomings and limitations in the implementation of the Act.
Analysis of the Consumer Protection Act
A law student analized the consumer protection act in the light of the above and is of the following views:
1. The position today is that only those services come within this Act for which specific payment is made, such as electricity, telephones, banking, etc. Thus the doctors, as well as hospitals including those where treatment is given free such as government hospitals, do not come within the ambit of the Act. Also, the mandatory civil services, such as sanitation, water supply, etc. provided by the State or local authorities are not covered by the Act.
The Act incorporates only two clauses regarding the supply of hazardous goods, but it does not impose any strict liability on those who supply such goods and the act does not provide any definition of safety requirements and the permitted hazardous levels.
A consumer can seek redressal under the Act only if he has suffered a loss or a damage as a result of the unfair trade practice or deficiency in service or the unfair trade practices resorted to by a trader. However, the per se rule is not invoked. The per se rule ensures that any act or practice which prima facie appears to be unfair shall be regarded as unfair and against consumer interest as such, pending its justifications by the opposite party.
The Act does not empower the Consumer Redressal Fora to issue either temporary restraint or “case and desist orders”.
Also, the Act does not empower the Consumer Redressal Forums to take up cases suo-moto.
The Act does not permit a consumer to lodge a complaint with the Consumer fora if an alternative remedy is available under some other law.
The Act does not impose liability on the chief executive, manager or director where an offence is shown to have been committed by an organisation. Also, the Act specifies a time frame within which the dispute is to be disposed of. The period specified is 90 days, but the actual time taken is much longer.
The Act concedes six rights of consumers viz. right to choose; the right to safety; the right to be informed; the right to be heard; the right to redress; and right to consumer education. But these rights have not been made justiciable. The Act completely ignores the right of consumers to a healthy environment. It acknowledges only six rights under Section 6 of the consumers as are recognised by the international organisation of consumer unions.
A major problem arising practically everywhere is that of execution of the orders passed by the Consumer Courts. In a large number of cases, there are defaults in compliance with the orders. There are cases where consumer courts have resorted to issuing of warrants to the defaulting parties. Cases have been taken to High Courts through writ petitions challenging the validity of issue of warrants.
It has hereby been suggested that some Act should be suitably amended to modify the definition of the terms consumer and ‘services’ to make it clear that consideration shall not be a condition precedent in case of availing medical and municipal services provided by the government.
Secondly that a victim of medical negligence in a government hospital should be entitled to compensation by enlarging the definition of consumer and bringing free services provided to the public by the government.
Also that the Consumer redressal Fora should be vested with powers to issue interim injunctions restraining an undertaking or person from carrying on any unfair trade practice as defined in Act.
The Consumer Redressal Fora should be empowered to take up the cases suo moto.
And finally in case the unfair trade practice about which a complaint has been made and about which the consumer Redressal Forum has given relief to the complainant, then if Forum is of the opinion that the alleged unfair trade practice is against public interest, it should be empowered to pass an order that the practice shall be discontinued and shall not be repeated. This is commonly called ‘cease and desist’ ordered. Consequences of Consumer Protection Law.
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