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Consumer Law in New Zealand, 2nd Edition

18 June 2015

Reviewed by Nic Scampion

I recently took my children – impressionable 4- and 7-year-olds – to America. American advertising can be simple, but it is effective. It dawned on me while we were there that, if it’s going to be a fair fight, consumers need protection. That’s why “consumer law” exists.

And there is a lot of consumer law. It has come a long way since Donoghue v Stevenson. There has been an explosion of consumer choice, a flood of relevant legislation, and goods and services are increasingly complex. As a result, consumers are overwhelmed by more information than they can process and have very little knowledge of their rights and their enforcement. (My children certainly don’t. That’s why parents exist.)

So, consumers need advising as to their rights, and lawyers – if they are to navigate the issues and advise – need a good, “comprehensive”, up-to-date text. That is what Consumer Law in New Zealand aims to be.

The editor, Kate Tokeley, is a lecturer at Victoria University School of Law. She wrote the first edition in 2000. Much has happened since then and, in late 2014, she (with the help of seven other academics working in relevant fields) updated it. Most of the book has been re-written. The book explains consumer law and the policies that underpin it and incorporates the “latest” (ie, to late 2014) legislative changes, case law and consumer law reform proposals.

The precise boundaries of the area are not easy to define. If we adopt the following definition (which is the definition Ms Tokeley adopts): “any regulatory measure, excluding competition regulation, that has the prime objective of protecting consumers of goods and services”, then the book is comprehensive in its scope. (I acknowledge that, of course, that definition may be unnecessarily restrictive. For example the Commerce Act, which is competition law, says its “purpose [is] to promote competition in markets for the long-term benefit of consumers within New Zealand.”)

The extent of consumer law is expanding, so it is not easy to stay up-to-date. Following a series of policy reviews – and extensive consultation – significant changes were made in December 2013. For example: sanctions against unfair terms in consumer standard form contracts; a prohibition on unsubstantiated representations; the Consumer Guarantees Act extended to include traditional and online auctions. There have also been recent significant changes to the law governing consumer credit and conduct in financial markets. This book is therefore a useful addition, and timely.

The book deals with the recent additions in some depth. There are, for example, chapters devoted to the unfair contract terms regime, responsible lending obligations (although the Responsible Lending Code was issued on 17 March 2015 and other regulations will come into force on 6 June 2015, and the book came too early for those), new consumer protection mechanisms relating to financial products, and the regulation of particular selling methods (eg, uninvited direct sales, layby sales, and the provision of unsolicited goods and services).

There are, however, areas of “consumer law” that the book does not address in any detail. For example, reflecting the historical contract-focused approach to transactions, other consumer law texts include sections devoted to the law of contract, and this book does not deal with that in any depth. And, of course, other texts deal with some areas more fully (for example, Fair Trading: Misleading or Deceptive Conduct (Trotman and Wilson, 2013), devotes roughly 350 pages to (primarily) the Fair Trading Act, compared to 50 pages here).

Equally, the book is not the only “comprehensive” guide to consumer law in the field. It draws on (and acknowledges) another text (Consumer Law, Bevan et al, LexisNexis NZ 2009 – which itself aimed to cover the developments since Ms Tokeley’s first edition in 2000), and there is much overlap between the two.

But, all in all, the book achieves its aims well. It is aimed at practitioners, academics, and students and it is a good, practical guide to the law and a very useful “issue-spotting” companion.

Consumer Law in New Zealand, 2nd Edition, LexisNexis NZ Ltd, January 2015, 978-1-927227-97-8, 543 pages, paperback and e-book, $150 (GST included, p&h excluded).

Nic Scampion is a barrister practising from Shortland Chambers in Auckland. He practises in most areas of civil/commercial litigation and employment law and is a mediator. There is more about him at: www.shortlandchambers.co.nz.

Last updated on the 17th March 2016