Consumer Protection and the Criminal Law

DOI10.1177/002201837103500408
Publication Date01 Oct 1971
SubjectArticle
Consumer Protection and the
Criminal Law
WHEN Parliament seeks to protect the consumer from injury
which he might suffer as a result of unfair
trade
practices,
it
frequently does so by imposing the penalties of the criminal law on
those who seek to beguile the public.
The
Trade
Descriptions Act,
1968 issuch astatute.
When
the owner of
an
establishment seeking to
sell goods to the public,
and
more particularly when the owner
of
a
chain
of such establishments is charged with
an
offence
againt
the
Act, it is
natural
that
his first instinct will be to say
that
he is morally
blameless
and
that
it
was the action of a guilty employee which
caused the commission of the offence. This,
of
course, is even more
likely to be so where the owner of a
chain
of stores is a public
company, where, in the
nature
of things, the director
and
others
responsible for the
running
of the company
cannot
be expected to
oversee
the
day
to
day
management
of
each store in the matters of
particular detail
out
of
which
an
offence
under
the
Act
is likely to
arise.
It
is, therefore, likely
that
members of the public, as well as
shop-keepers
and
those concerned in the administration of the Act,
will have followed with great interest the passage of
Tesco
Supermarkets
Ltd. v. Nattrass (35 J.C.L. 16) from
the
magistrates'
court
to the
House of Lords
and
will now be assessing
the
impact
of
the
ultimate
acquittal of Tesco
upon
the effectiveness of
the
Act's protection of the
consumer for the future.
Tesco displayed
Radiant
washing powder,
with
anotice
that
the
3S
IId
packet was reduced to
2S
IId.
Acustomer found only
packets marked 3s
IId
and
he was
made
to
pay
that
price.
He
com-
plained
that
this constitutedan offence againsts.11(2) of
the
Act which
provides
that
aperson shall be guilty
of
an
offence
if
he indicates
that
goods
are
being offered
at
aprice less
than
at
which they
are
in
fact being sold. Before the magistrates, Tesco took the point
that
the
poster
meant
only
that
some
packets were being offered
at
the
lower
price, so
that,
as long as
the
higher price
had
been marked on
other
packets no offence
had
been committed merely by offering the higher
priced packets when once
the
lower price packets
had
run
out
of
stock. This would
mean
that
ashopkeeper would need to sell only
281

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