5 March 2015
A Ministry of Justice working group is proposing an amendment to the practices pertaining to opposition to an injunction imposed by the Consumer Ombudsman. At present, such an injunction becomes void if the business concerned opposes the imposition of the injunction. The Consumer Ombudsman should be able to apply for a penalty payment for businesses that violate consumer protection regulations knowingly or through neglect.
The Ministry of Justice working group has assessed the effectiveness of the means currently available to the Consumer Ombudsman and the possible need for changes. The working group proposes changes to be implemented in the enforcement measures available to the Consumer Ombudsman in cases in which the illegal activities of a business cannot be prevented through negotiations. The objective is to end legal violations more rapidly, while also using the authorities' resources in a more efficient manner.
The key amendment proposed concerns injunctions imposed by the Consumer Ombudsman. At present, such an injunction will become void if the business concerned opposes the imposition of the injunction. According to the working group's proposal, a business that is dissatisfied with an injunction imposed by the Consumer Ombudsman would in the future have to submit the case in question to the Market Court. This would ensure that injunctions imposed by the Consumer Ombudsman are commensurate with the usual practice for administrative injunctions. The Consumer Ombudsman would also be able to apply for a penalty payment from the Market Court for businesses that violate consumer protection regulations knowingly or through neglect. When deciding the amount of a penalty payment, the Market Court would consider the nature, extent and duration of the violation, at the least.
The group also proposes that the competence of Regional State Administrative Agencies be expanded in matters concerning the supervision of consumer protection legislation. This would promote more efficient supervision of businesses that only operate on a local or regional level. The Regional State Administrative Agencies would enact these supervision duties as authorities operating under the Consumer Ombudsman.
"Negotiation would remain the Consumer Ombudsman's primary course of action also in the future. However, since businesses do not always end or alter their illegal activities voluntarily, it is important to have the means to intervene in these types of cases using more efficient methods. This would benefit consumers and other businesses alike, while also promoting the efficiency of the market," says Consumer Ombudsman Päivi Hentunen
The reforms would be implemented by passing an act on penalty payments in consumer matters and by amending the Consumer Protection Act and the Act on the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority. Some revisions, technical in nature, would also be made to certain other acts.
Providing the background for these propositions is a Government consumer policy programme drafted for the years 2012–2015, according to which the appropriateness and adequacy of the range of means available to the consumer protection authorities should be assessed. The conditions of the supervisory work performed by the consumer protection authorities have attracted attention even before this. State auditors' reports and an assessment of the legal activities of the Finnish Consumer Agency (the current Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority) have both stated the need to develop the range of means available to the consumer protection authorities for intervening in inappropriate marketing campaigns and other activities of businesses that violate Finnish consumer protection regulations.
The Confederation of Finnish Industries and the Federation of Finnish Enterprises, both of which were represented on the working group, submitted a dissenting opinion to the proposal.
See also: Ministry of Justice press release from 5 March 2015 (in Finnish).