Monthly Archives: September 2012

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Online Auctions – Your Rights

There are many attractions in buying items at online auction sites. After all, every one of us loves a bargain, and there are many to be found at popular sites such as eBay. However, when buying from such sites it pays to be careful; after all, you are effectively buying without seeing, and this can lead to problems. Knowing your rights means you shop more carefully, so let’s talk about the basic legal rights in buying from online auctions.

An Auction is not a Store

There is a distinction between an online store and an online auction: in the former you are covered by the basic rights provided by the Sale of Goods Act, but in the latter you are less secure. This is because, with the likes of eBay, your rights are with the seller, not the auction site. As most online sellers are individuals rather than businesses, getting your money back when things go wrong is not as easy as it may otherwise be.

Buyer Beware

The best advice when shopping on an online auction site is to treat it like an advert in your local paper; with classified adverts the ‘buyer beware’ principle applies. You need to be certain that what you are getting is what has been described. However, the bigger sites – such as eBay – will help you when problems occur but, as they are dealing with individuals, they are limited as to the action they can take.

You still have Rights

Even individual sellers must adhere to the Sale of Goods Act in describing goods correctly when selling them on an auction site. In other words, if something is described as ‘new’ or in ‘good working order’ it must be so. You can take action by contacting your local Trading Standards Department, but beware that not all cases are suitably resolved.

The Rise of ‘Twitter Trolls’

The unstoppable rise in popularity of social networking media, in particular the incredibly popular Twitter and Facebook, has been marred by the emergence of so-called ‘trolls’; these are people who use the networks to post offensive and mocking comments about public figures and, increasingly often, victims of high-profile crime. The mindset of such people must be under question: what is to be gained by insulting someone who does not know you, and who has done you no harm, via electronic digital media? Yet there are growing instances of such actions, and also growing calls for laws to protect victims.

Tom Daley Case

One high-profile case was that involving abusive Twitter messages sent to Tom Daley, the young Olympic swimming star. Daniel Thomas, himself a semi-professional sportsman, was accused of sending abusive and ‘homophobic’ messages to Daley via Twitter. However, no charges were brought as the court concluded that the messages were “not so grossly offensive that criminal charges need to be brought”. This begs the questions as to where a line is drawn, and to who it is that decides when something is ‘grossly offensive’ enough to merit prosecution. The law as it stands is not clear, hence the calls for new legislation.

Bomb Threat Joke

Another well-publicised case was that involving Paul Chambers, who – in a fit of pique – jokingly threatened to ‘blow up’ Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster. The case was examined by the CPS and Thomas initially accused of ‘menacing communication’ but, again, no charges were brought. There is, of course, an element of standing up for free speech – a particular favourite in UK law – and it is arguable that, upon investigation, the threat was not found to be credible. However, who foots the cost of that investigation, one that could have been avoided very easily?

Facebook Trolls

Facebook, the other supremely popular social networking site, is well known for brushes with the law. There was a sense of outrage when murderer Raoul Moat was celebrated as a hero by fools after killing policemen, and similar sick tributes have been set up celebrating the recently arrested Dale Cregan, who shot two policewomen – in cold blood – in Manchester. Facebook is generally cooperative in such cases, but there are many instances where young people have been tormented to such an extent by ‘trolls’ that they have taken their own life. The law needs to be examined, and the outcome decreed; the times they are a ‘changing.

National Consumer Week

Did you know that this has been National Consumer Week? No, we didn’t either, but the fact is it was designed to raise awareness of consumer issues that may not be quite as they seem. Consumer law is a complex area of the law that is full of loopholes and strange clauses, but there are some things that you really should know. Your rights are determined by the law, and it is often the case that retailers and manufacturers tend to keep some things to themselves. Let’s take a look at some of the consumer rights you should know about.

Sale of Goods Act

The Sale of Goods Act is the defining act that covers consumer purchases. Chief among the rules on the act is that which states goods must be ‘fit for the purpose’ for which they were intended. Many people do not know that there is a basic duty for faulty goods to be replaced for up to six years. Of course, this will not apply to short-term consumables, but it does to major items. Put simply, your television should be expected to last five years, not one. Do not be misled into paying for expensive extended warranties where they are not needed.

Consumer Credit Act

This is another excellent piece of information that everyone should know. Basically, using a credit card for purchases on single items of £100 or more – up to £30,000 total – means that your credit card provider is liable for any losses thanks to non-delivery or faulty goods. This is why it is often advised by consumer experts that you use a credit card for such purchases. This sort of cover is one of the least known of all the consumer quirks that we come across, but one of the most useful.

Supply of Goods and Services Act

Just as the law expects goods to be fit for the purpose under the Sale of Goods Act, so any services that you pay for must be carried out to satisfactory level. In other words, if your car repair is botched by the garage, you have a right to expect the problems to be put right either by the offending party, or by someone else with them paying for it. These are just a few of the many consumer laws that are designed to cover you and make sure that you get the very best service available.

Defamation Cases on the Decline

It seems that the Leveson Inquiry, the recent investigation into allegations of phone hacking and media misbehaviour, may have had an impact already. Research has revealed that defamation cases in the UK have fallen over the year compared the same period 12months ago, indicating that media companies are changing their approach in many ways.
In the year leading up to May 31st there were a recorded 71 defamation cases through the courts, with the corresponding figure being 84 in the previous 12 months. This may not look particularly impressive on paper but it represents a 15% fall.

Concerns in the Media

The Leveson Inquiry has undoubtedly made media companies wary of possible defamation cases, and the feeling is that this will become more prominent in the light of the recent investigation. Korieh Duodo, a partner at media law firm
David Price Solicitors and Advocates, said:

“Phone hacking has put journalistic standards under the microscope like never before. Media companies are concerned [this] could lead to the imposition of a statutory media standards regulator, and they are have made every effort to put their own houses in order to avoid this.”

Privacy Injunctions

Some speculation has surrounded the possibility that celebrities who are seeking more control over their media profile may have used privacy injunctions to limit what the press can write. Duodo commented:

“Privacy injunctions became increasingly fashionable as they could prevent damaging articles from ever seeing the light of day. By contrast, defamation law cannot generally be used to prevent allegations being published, but only to set the record straight through an action for damages after the event. This made the privacy injunction an extremely powerful legal tool for individuals in the media spotlight.”

It remains to be seen what overall impact the Leveson findings will have on the future of the free press in the UK.