Welcome back to work. As for happy new year, if you thought 2009 gave us a number of legal developments that affected the IT industry, then you ain’t seen nothing yet. 2010 is likely to see even more law, new legal developments and reviews of existing laws that impact on the IT industry.
Waste minimisation and product stewardship were discussed several times in this column during 2009. Pressure on IT companies to participate in product stewardship schemes for IT products is likely to reappear in the foreseeable future. At the moment, the government has held off passing regulations making product stewardship mandatory for any groups of products, but accredited voluntary schemes are likely to be the continuing focus of attention for the Ministry for the Environment. One voluntary product stewardship scheme for waste oil has already been approved. Product stewardship isn’t going to go away.
Neither is global warming, together with the various schemes that attempt to deal with it. Media coverage of the 2009 UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen shows that emissions trading and climate change are issues that will continue to impact all industries including high-tech manufactured goods. Local development of laws regulating carbon emissions and regulating trading of rights to emit carbon will continue. It will affect us all, directly or indirectly.
All of that sounds a bit distant from day-to-day work. But wait, there’s more, and it will affect you much more directly. The Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act is up for review this year. Those of you who supply on credit will be familiar with that Act’s requirements, particularly if you deal with consumers. We will keep you posted. Of more interest is the declared intention of the Minister of Consumer Affairs to have a “one law, one door” policy for consumer law: coordinated statute law and coordinated remedies and enforcement.
Not only is this likely to lead to a focussing of consumer law on the Consumer Guarantees Act and the Fair Trading Act (both of which have strong underlying principles) but there is the real likelihood that the scope of trader criminal liability will be broadened. Expect to see some of those lesser known but very real statutes, like the Door to Door Sales Act, come under the Fair Trading Act. The real risk with this type of reform, though, is that existing statutory provisions that balance trader-consumer rights might not be recognised and might become unbalanced.
The Financial Service Providers (Registration and Dispute Resolution) Act is a good case in point. This Act was passed without broad consultation in the last week of the previous government’s term. There are significant problems that need to be resolved before it comes into force. It is meant to target banks, insurers, financial advisers and other financial institutions that offer financial services to the public, but as currently worded has an extremely broad definition of “financial service provider”, which (unintentionally, we understand) includes retailers offering gift cards, prepay mobile phone companies and people offering low value billing services, including (potentially) just running recharge accounts for small businesses!
Unless the Act is amended before it comes into force, providers of these services will be required to participate in costly dispute resolution schemes. The obligations on any business that falls within the definition of financial service provider are very costly and it is difficult to see what compliance with the Act would achieve for anyone.
Best of luck for 2010. We will keep you posted as these laws and issues develop over the course of the year.
Rae Nield is a solicitor specialising in marketing law. This article is intended for general information and should not be relied on as specific legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for advice relating to your own specific legal problems. Rae Nield can be contacted at email@example.com.