(First appeared in New Era 29 July 2015)
(Great Expectations is a novel by Charles Dickens that was published in 1861 and tells the story of an orphan named Pip)
This coming week it will be my first wedding anniversary. Traditionally, (since the Middle Ages), each wedding anniversary requires a specific gift depending on the number of years you are married. For example, the tenth wedding anniversary is tin or aluminium celebrating ideas and symbols while the fifteenth anniversary gift is traditionally crystal.
The first wedding anniversary is traditionally symbolised as being paper while in modern times we also give gifts of clocks. I have spent some time considering the various gift ideas from money, photographs, books, stationary, event tickets, love letters, calendars and poems. After much consideration, I decided what I will by my loving supportive wife for her anniversary. But back to the consumer issue at the heart of this decision making. One of the ideas is to purchase a coupon for a service or product that your loved one can take up at their own time. For example, a coupon for a day being spoilt at a wellness/spa/beauty parlour counts as a paper gift.
This got me to thinking what would happen if the gift I purchased as a promissory note, does not meet the expectations I have of the gift I wish the give the other person? After all, as the customer who purchased the gift I too have an expectation of the service of product even though I am not the intended recipient.
Under the present legal environment (or rather of legal environment), there would be very little recourse to me if the expected, and advertised, service does not meet my expectations. Obviously expectations can be very subjective as they are based on my personal expectations, but should there not be a recourse to at least the minimum expectation any reasonable person would expect?
In the proposed draft consumer protection law, it is proposed that a consumer can sue under the principle of “tort”. A tort, in our common law jurisdiction, refers to a civil wrong that unfairly causes someone else to suffer loss or harm resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious act. This person who commits the act is known as the tortfeasor. This harm or loss is not limited to physical injuries and can include emotional, economic or reputational injury as well as violations of privacy, property or constitutional rights. In general torts can refer to carried topics such as motor vehicle accidents, false imprisonment, defamation, product liability, copyright infringement and environmental pollution. As a consumer, this will lessen the burden of proof required when instituting an action against a supplier of products or services.
The proposed Consumer Protection Commission will also be able to handle “class action” lawsuits where consumer protection organisations can bring claims on behalf of consumers. (A class action is a type of lawsuit where one or several person can sue on behalf of a larger group of persons, who are then referred to as “the class”.) This will help consumer activists as class action allow for two factors important in consumer protection, namely that 1) the issues being brought to court or government agency are common to all members of the class; and 2) the persons affected are too many and this will make it impractical to bring all of them before the court to testify.
This bring me back to the question of whether I will have legal recourse if the beauty parlour coupon does not meet my (or the recipients) expectations. After all, they do offer beauty treatment?