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A Bill seeking to amend the Consumer Protection Act, to improve the efficiency of the legislation and strengthen the authority of the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) in resolving consumer disputes, was debated and passed in the Senate on December 7.

The Bill, entitled: ‘An Act to Amend the Consumer Protection Act’, was approved with seven amendments.  It was initially debated and passed in the House of Representatives, with eight amendments, on October 16.

Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, who piloted the Bill, explained that its provisions aim to widen the CAC’s powers to include: record keeping; investigations of breaches under the Act; and institution and execution of legal proceedings.

He explained that it also provides for the establishment of a Consumer Protection Tribunal to arbitrate in consumer-related matters, in the event that mediation proceedings and procedures fail, in order to determine whether specific practices have breached the Consumer Protection Act.

Additionally, the Act is intended to facilitate strengthening of provisions related to advertising and display of prices; recovery of damages from breach of warranty and to generally increase the fines for contravention of provisions relevant to warranties; and to facilitate adequate time to the provider of goods or services to conduct verification of a complaint, prior to payment of a refund where there is a dispute.

The Act also contains wider definition of services to include ‘one-off transactions’ between consumer and provider; and identifies the Resident Magistrate’s Court as the applicable court, where necessary.

The new Bill resulted from an extensive review of the original Act by the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce; the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and the CAC, with the consensus that the Consumer Protection Act, which was promulgated in June 2005, required revision to address important policy issues.

Senators who also contributed to the debate were: Minister with responsibility for Information, Senator the Hon. Sandrea Falconer; and Senators Norman Grant, Lambert Brown, and Floyd Morris (Government); and Senators Arthur Williams, Alexander Williams, Kamina Johnson-Smith, and Marlene Malahoo-Forte (Opposition).