May 31, 2007

Consumers and the Law

I'm back because I just read something interesting on Tomorrow.sg. Apparently the Tomorrow editors have been threatened with legal action.

It's all because they had published, sometime in 2006, a
link to someone's article. That person (Gecko) had blogged about his unhappiness about a certain time share company known as Grand Seasons International.

So now Grand Seasons International has sent a lawyer's letter to Tomorrow.sg.

Just to protect myself, I shall first say here that I do not know anything about Grand Seasons International (which is true). I do not know Gecko personally (which is true). I have not spoken to any Tomorrow editor about this matter (which is also true).

Thus I am unable to verify, and I do not know, and I do not assert, and I shall not be taken to have asserted, that GSI, or Gecko, or the Tomorrow editors, has said or has not said, or are saying or are not saying, anything that is true or false.

I shall only say that (1) if you run a retail business, and (2) members of the public have negative feedback about you (whether true or false or accurate or inaccurate), and (3) your response is to threaten them with legal action, then ....

.... well, well, maybe you should rethink your PR policies. Because this kind of behaviour is unlikely to endear you to your potential customers.

While we're on this topic, I wish to comment generally on the topic of consumer rights in Singapore. My further commentary is without reference to any specific companies or individuals. It is just a general explanation of the law in Singapore.

Under Singapore laws, there is a relatively new piece of legislation known as the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.

If you, as a consumer, feel that you have been the victim of an "unfair practice", then you may have a right to take legal action under this Act. Naturally, if you can find other consumers who have been the victims of the same "unfair practice" by the same perpetrator, and you all go to court together, your case will be very strong.

Section 4 of the Act explains what an unfair practice is:

"It is an unfair practice for a supplier, in relation to a consumer transaction —

(a) to do or say anything, or omit to do or say anything, if as a result a consumer might reasonably be deceived or misled;

(b) to make a false claim;

(c) to take advantage of a consumer if the supplier knows or ought reasonably to know that the consumer —

(i) is not in a position to protect his own interests; or

(ii) is not reasonably able to understand the character, nature, language or effect of the transaction or any matter related to the transaction; or

(d) without limiting the generality of paragraphs (a) to (c), to do anything specified in the Second Schedule."
The Second Schedule goes on to spell out a long list of practices that could constitute an "unfair practice". Since this list is very long (a total of 20), for the sake of brevity, I'll just highlight a few:
SPECIFIC UNFAIR PRACTICES

7. Representing that a price benefit or advantage exists respecting goods or services where the price benefit or advantage does not exist.

9. Representing that a transaction involving goods or services involves or does not involve rights, remedies or obligations where that representation is deceptive or misleading.

11. Taking advantage of a consumer by including in an agreement terms or conditions that are harsh, oppressive or excessively one-sided so as to be unconscionable.

12. Taking advantage of a consumer by exerting undue pressure or undue influence on the consumer to enter into a transaction involving goods or services.

17. Offering gifts, prizes or other free items in connection with the supply of goods or services if the supplier knows or ought to know that the items will not be provided or provided as offered.

20. Using small print to conceal a material fact from the consumer or to mislead a consumer as to a material fact, in connection with the supply of goods or services.
To know more about the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, you can click here. The full text of the Act is downloadable from here.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, if you have such a link to someone's article, which had blogged about his/her unhappiness about say ... my company.

And if I were to sent a lawyer letter to you, what would you do?

:-)

Anonymous Coward

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang

In your post you wrote:

Just to protect myself, I shall first say here that I do not know anything about Grand Seasons International (which is true). I do not know Gecko personally (which is true). I have not spoken to any Tomorrow editor about this matter (which is also true).

Thus I am unable to verify, and I do not know, and I do not assert, and I shall not be taken to have asserted, that GSI, or Gecko, or the Tomorrow editors, has said or has not said, or are saying or are not saying, anything that is true or false.

I shall only say that (1) if you run a retail business, and (2) members of the public have negative feedback about you (whether true or false or accurate or inaccurate), and (3) your response is to threaten them with legal action, then ....

.... well, well, maybe you should rethink your PR policies. Because this kind of behaviour is unlikely to endear you to your potential customers.


First I am confused by why you need to so-called "protect" yourself, legally I presume? What is it that you have said that can be construed as anything as libellous?

As far as I can tell, you as a third party merely state the action to threaten legal action is not a good move in the GENERAL sense. So what is so potentially libellous about this?

Now, if Singapore claims to practice common law, and IF what you have said could be CONSIDERED POTENTIALLY libellous, would the Chris Lingle(1) case not already be instituted as case law? In which case, your earlier claim of unwitting (or ambiguous or no direct reference) commentary be no defence at all?

In any case, if any party have a penchant to sue, how would your preamble protect you?

After all, lawsuit is quite a common thing. So when you said protect yourself, how would it stop another party from launching a legal action? Hey even if the prospect of wining is nil, is it not a common scare tactic used in businesses, especially when party being sued are perceived to be weak?

Hope you can enlighten me on this one.

Tan Ah Kow

(1) Chris Lingle was a lecturer in Singapore before he was sued for contempt of court. He wrote an article, which DID NOT directly named or even REFERENCED Singapore, about let's just say questionable system of justice, and yet he was found guilty.

zhixiang said...

hahah it seems like many insurance agents are guilty of infringing the consumers' rights law.

Anonymous said...

He he ..

I don't even feel protected as a citizen in Singapore!

And who do I turn to for help? CASE? you must be joking.

Anyway, I don't understand these so called marketers who are supposed to have done some studying into the human pyschic or consumer behaviour. Don't they know hard sell never sells?

I am so pissed off with timeshare or holiday share companies that I usually start shouting at them before they even finish with the sentence about me having won some stupid prize.

And I always tell those marketers to go get another decent job.

Anonymous said...

There are consequences, be it negative or positive, to whatever we do. If we cannot accept the consequences, then don't do it.

Hence,I failed to understand why you need to protect yourself if you wants to mentioned it.

Your purpose for this blog is to share with every readers what you know. I appreciate it as I am one of your regular readers.

Jolly Jester said...

Tan Ah Kow,

I am no lawyer and not really well read on this case, but isn't Chris Lingle's case set in a very different context from the usual civil defamation suit? In Lingle's case it was the Court and the government's reputation that was involved.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Aha .... If I do not put in the necessary qualifiers, then by talking abt Grand Season and the Consumer Protection Act in the same post, I may be construed to be insinuating that GS has breached this law.

Therefore I had to state that I don't actually know anything about GS, Tomorrow or Gecko, and that I myself am not saying that anything that any of them has said is right or wrong.

Anonymous said...

Jolly Jester,

If you want more definitive explanations of the jurisprudence (theory, philosophy, methodology, etc) behind the Lingle case and its relationship -- how shall I put it so as not to cause problem to Mr Wang?? -- let's just say our current discussion, as seen from the Singapore Legal system, I suppose you have to direct the question to Mr Wang.

In simplistic term, what the Lingle case SEEMED to have established is the principle of legal judgement that non-specific commentary cannot be used a defence. The fact that the context (by that I guess you mean the nature) of the case may be different, the principle could also be applicable, when the judge make his/her judgement. Since I am more familiar with the UK scene, I'll explain it from that perspective.

Typically, in the UK, to avoid problems of sub judice or defamations or slander, you simply have to emphasise that you are making a general comment. Even if the general comment was inspired by a specific case.

For example, you will often hear commentator, say things like "I can't comment on the specific of a case but the law in general..". This is a non-specific defence. Likewise, if you suddenly come across the case about an unscrupulous practice of a trader and you use the case to comment on say Consumer law, whilst using the case in hypothetical sense, for example, if you made statement like "let's say the trader, did do this hideous act, do you think ...".

As far as I can tell, from the Lingle case, it would appear that the PRINCIPLE of non-specific defence don't seemed to apply in the Singapore context. Here I cannot be certain if the statement I made is applicable or not in the Singapore context. I have to defer to Mr Wang to comment.

IF, and I mean IF, my statement was accurate, then I suppose based on legal precedence, Mr Wang's preamble SEEMED to have no legal defence at all. So one COULD HYPOTHETICALLY rule that Mr Wang had indeed ... let's just say... do something not too legally correct. NOTE: the word, HYPOTHETICALLY. I am NOT implying or insinuating that he had done something wrong.

Anonymous said...

Jolly Jester,

If you want more definitive explanations of the jurisprudence (theory, philosophy, methodology, etc) behind the Lingle case and its relationship -- how shall I put it so as not to cause problem to Mr Wang?? -- let's just say our current discussion, as seen from the Singapore Legal system, I suppose you have to direct the question to Mr Wang.

In simplistic term, what the Lingle case SEEMED to have established is the principle of legal judgement that non-specific commentary cannot be used a defence. The fact that the context (by that I guess you mean the nature) of the case may be different, the principle could also be applicable, when the judge make his/her judgement. Since I am more familiar with the UK scene, I'll explain it from that perspective.

Typically, in the UK, to avoid problems of sub judice or defamations or slander, you simply have to emphasise that you are making a general comment. Even if the general comment was inspired by a specific case.

For example, you will often hear commentator, say things like "I can't comment on the specific of a case but the law in general..". This is a non-specific defence. Likewise, if you suddenly come across the case about an unscrupulous practice of a trader and you use the case to comment on say Consumer law, whilst using the case in hypothetical sense, for example, if you made statement like "let's say the trader, did do this hideous act, do you think ...".

As far as I can tell, from the Lingle case, it would appear that the PRINCIPLE of non-specific defence don't seemed to apply in the Singapore context. Here I cannot be certain if the statement I made is applicable or not in the Singapore context. I have to defer to Mr Wang to comment.

IF, and I mean IF, my statement was accurate, then I suppose based on legal precedence, Mr Wang's preamble SEEMED to have no legal defence at all. So one COULD HYPOTHETICALLY rule that Mr Wang had indeed ... let's just say... do something not too legally correct. NOTE: the word, HYPOTHETICALLY. I am NOT implying or insinuating that he had done something wrong.

Tan Ah Kow

Jolly Jester said...

Tan Ah Kow,

Thanks for your explanation. Yep I agree with you that the implication of the ruling on the Lingle case can be interpreted as such a defence is not valid in Singapore courts.

However, my point is that due to the differences in the context, the Court might rule differently. Singapore courts are known to be fair and impartial in most areas, with the big exception in one area...

I am just speaking from a layman's perspective though, so just my few cents...

Scope said...

I also a victim. Hahaha...
I decide to fight head on.

Bless me~!

Scope.