EU consumer law provides a framework for a wide range of UK consumer rights, covering food and product safety, unfair commercial practices, consumer information, such as product labelling and packaging, and consumer redress.
The majority of UK consumer legislation derives from the EU and is implemented into the UK regulatory framework through either primary or secondary legislation, like other EU legislation.
Due to the nature of the single market and an increase in e-commerce, European consumers are now accustomed to buying products from across the EU and to travel for business and pleasure. The main uncertainties deriving from the UK’s proposed withdrawal from the EU for consumers are therefore situations surrounding travel abroad and EU cross-border transactions.
Cross-border consumer transactions
Contracts governed by the consumer’s home country law
The Rome I Regulation (Rome I) establishes that a contract between a business and a consumer is to be governed by the law of the country where the consumer lives on the condition that the business operates or undertakes marketing (including online marketing) in the consumer’s country. This allows the consumer to be protected by the rights of their home state, which they are likely to be more familiar with.
Ideally, the UK would continue to take part in Rome I in the event of a withdrawal from the EU. If this is not possible, the UK should maintain the rules established by Rome I, in which case the UK government should immediately make it clear that they will apply the rules set out in Rome I by converting them into domestic law.
Recognition and enforcement in consumer issues
The Brussels I Regulation (Brussels I) sets out a uniform system under which civil and commercial judgments are recognised and enforced throughout the EU area.
Brussels I normally allocates jurisdiction for the courts of the state where the defendant is domiciled. It provides for an exception for consumers, where they are able sue others or defend themselves in their home court. This reversal of the normal jurisdiction rule allows the consumer under certain circumstances to have the case brought in their home court, which makes it easier for them to bring a case and feel familiar with the process. The same weaker party protection applies in case of insurance contracts, which is another advantage for consumers in insurance contracts.
The UK should negotiate continued participation in the Brussels I framework as there is a need for reciprocity between the UK and EU member states as, where the framework does not apply, consumers face the challenge of jurisdiction of choice clauses within standard terms and conditions, which mean that they are unable to have their case heard in the court that is familiar to them. UK consumers would therefore find themselves at a consistent disadvantage if the framework were to not apply, and vice versa EU consumers who buy in UK.
Some specific cases
Recognition and enforcement in motor traffic accidents
The combination of Brussels I and the Motor Insurance Directive allows UK and EU nationals who are victims of car accidents to use their home courts to pursue insurance claims after accidents occurring in another Member States. This right is particularly important where the accidents involve personal injuries or fatalities.
EU legislation on passenger rights sets a harmonised minimum level of protection irrespective of the mode of transport used. For example, under EU law, passengers can claim compensation for certain flight, train and coach delays that occur within the EU and are between EU and non-EU airports and terminals.
The EU roaming rules have reduced the cost of making and receiving calls abroad within the EU and roaming charges are due to be phased out after June 2017. The advantages for UK consumers of remaining part of this system is therefore evident and we would recommend that the UK negotiates continued participation in these mechanisms.
Mutual recognition of product standards
Depending on the UK’s future relationship with the EU on the trade of goods, there will likely be a need for the UK and the EU to have a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) which provides for mutual recognition of product standards.
Even if the UK will still be applying European standards to its products, it will not have the automatic recognition of these standards, particularly where the UK has imported goods from outside the EU with the aim of exporting them to the EU; the same will apply to EU businesses wanting to export to the UK.
There will likely need to be bilateral agreements laying down the conditions under which the UK will accept conformity assessment results (e.g. testing or certification) from the EU and vice-versa.