SCMP Tuesday, January 9, 2001

Legal empowerment for consumers urged


The Consumer Council said on Tuesday one of its major objectives in 2001 will be seeking legal empowerment to sue companies on behalf of consumers.
Chairman Andrew Chan Chi-fai said the council would continue to lobby for improved legislative protection for consumers.
''Essentially, it will seek the support of the Government in the enactment of legislation curbing deceptive and misleading trade practices,'' Professor Chan said.
''We found there is a surge in the number of complaints about these practices. We hope somebody will be able to take that up and sue on behalf of consumers,'' he added.
Last July, a High Court judge ruled it ''unconscionable'' that bank card contracts could give banks the power to spend unlimited amounts chasing debts and then bill customers.
''If similar cases in other industries can be brought to court, there will be fewer customers becoming victims,'' council Chief Executive Pamela Chan Wong-shui said.
The council said it was targeting firms having ''unconscionable'' terms in contracts with customers.
''It is hard to say when we should bring the cases to court at the moment,'' council deputy Chief Executive Li Kai-ming said.
A major priority would be those cases involving the public interest, he said.
Professor Chan explained: ''We are always fighting for such legal empowerment... but there are too many grey areas.''
In its end-of-year report, the council found there was an increase by 15 per cent in complaints in 2000. Those against service providers doubled over the past five years.
The council received 18,932 complaints last year. It said 3,112 were against the telecommunications sector - a 71 per cent increase over the previous year.
There were 1,100 complaints about telecommunications equipment, a jump of 31 per cent on 1999.
Professor Chan said the rise was due to the sector's rapid development. ''We foresee there will be increasing complaints in the coming year.''