Consumer Protection and the Criminal Law: Law, Theory, and Policy in the UK

By Peter Cartwright | Go to book overview
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7
The enforcement of regulatory
consumer law

Introduction

If the criminal law is to be effective in protecting consumers then it needs effective enforcement. Some of the earliest consumer protection statutes created criminal offences, but frequently relied upon private individuals to take action. For example, the Adulteration of Food and Drink Act 1860 made it an offence knowingly to sell food containing an injurious ingredient or which was adulterated. Although local authorities were empowered by the Act to appoint public analysts they were under no duty to do so, and individuals wanting samples to be analysed were required to pay for the service. It was only with the passing of the Adulteration of Food, Drink, and Drugs Act 1872 that the appointment of analysts became obligatory and that local authority inspectors were empowered to procure samples for analysis. Since that time, the enforcement of consumer law by public bodies has become a major characteristic of the system in the UK.1

The purpose of this chapter is to examine the ways in which regulatory consumer protection statutes are enforced. Consumer law in the UK is enforced predominantly at local level, by officers employed by local authorities, who will be responsible for a particular geographic area. However, at a national level the Director General of Fair Trading and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry also have some enforcement powers, for example under Part III of the Fair Trading Act 1973, and under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.2 To understand the reality of enforcement, it is important to say something about the strategies which may be invoked, and to look at the available theoretical and empirical evidence. We will see that trading standards officers, in common with other

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1
See P. Smith and D. Swann, Protecting the Consumer: An Economic and Legal Analysis (Oxford, Martin Robertson, 1979), pp. 118–19. Private prosecutions are still possible, and there have been examples of prosecutions by competitors. See Donnelly v. Rowlands [1971] 1 All ER 9.
2
This book does not consider the enforcement of consumer law by bodies outside the UK, such as the European Commission.

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