A consumer rights body has told the Faulks review how judicial review has helped influence the enforcement of product safety laws and protect the public from unfair trading practices.
Which?, an independent not-for-profit consumer organisation with more than 1.3 million members, said the ability to bring judicial review proceedings must exist as a matter of practice as well as principle in its submission to the Independent Review of Administrative Law’s call for evidence.
The organisation said its actions opened up a public conversation about the way product safety laws are enforced across the country. ‘In 2018, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee published a report warning of flaws in the system and heavily referenced Which?’s evidence, including learnings from our judicial review action,’ its submission says.
Which? brought judicial review proceedings in relation to the government’s implementation of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. The submission says: ‘The government intended to reserve enforcement of the regulations to public enforcers only, but Which? challenged this decision and was successful in having the regime extended to private enforcers. This was a significant positive outcome for consumers because it allowed representative organisations such as Which? to continue to hold businesses to account for potential unfair trading practices against consumers.’
Which? criticised the call for evidence’s questions to government departments.
The submission said the questions automatically assume a negative experience and do not seek to understand the benefits that JR proceedings bring. Which? added that if the government were concerned about its ability to properly discharge its responsibilities and duties when faced with unmeritorious claims, ‘then we note that there are already a number of safeguards built into the process which help deter such claims’.
The pre-action protocol under the Civil Procedure Rules exists to facilitate resolution between parties. ‘Further, unlike other civil litigation, the permission stage gives the courts an opportunity to identify unfounded claims at the early stages of the proceedings and to manage such cases appropriately.’
Which? believes any amendments should relate to extending the three-month window to issue proceedings, which the organisation said was ‘unnecessarily short in comparison with other civil law limitation periods’.
The review, being led by former Tory justice minister Lord Faulks, is expected to report to the government by the end of the year.