Conferences and Training
The new block exemption rules are a new form of EU regulation, with emphasis on dynamic market effects not static legal clauses. This was the message to delegates during the first session at the 2004 Motor Law Conference which took place on 19 February at the Royal Automobile Club London with the theme “Adapting to Change”. Andrew Tongue of the International Car Distribution Programme stressed the living nature of the regulations, with scope for clarification and amendment, and a commitment to ongoing monitoring, and warned that the move to decentralised enforcement after 1 May 2004 will also mean that different market situations in Member states will produce different responses from regulators. The recent setback for the Commission in enforcing the previous regulation as a result of the decision by the European Court of First Instance in the VW case (reported in the last issue of Motor Law) might still be the subject of appeal. He believed that market reaction generally was muted so far, although there were hot spots, notably in Germany where there was a preponderance of small family owned businesses.
The broader European perspective on the new regulation was also given by conference Chairman David Evans speaking in his capacity as Chairman of the European Council for Motor Trades and Repairs’ (CECRA) Block Exemption Committee, and by Hartmut Röhl, President of the International Federation of Automotive Aftermarket Distribution (FIGIEFA).
Getting to grips with changes for motor financial services
The conference also heard from Ashley Holmes, Head of Legal Affairs & Policy Development at the Finance Leasing Association about the significant changes to consumer credit legislation being proposed by the government ahead of the conclusion of an amended EU directive on the same subject. He warned that the changes are likely to cause major new costs to the motor finance industry and produce even tighter regulation. At the same time, the government has set itself a tight timetable to introduce the changes, which may not be sustainable.
Protecting trademarks in a changing environment.
The problems of protecting trademarks and brand image, as well as domain names on the Internet and data protection issues was the theme of a presentation by Karen Fong and Angus Phang of law firm Willoughby & Partners. Companies have to develop a strategy in respect of their domain names which has to be consistent with an overall strategy on intellectual property. This will include registering names before a new product launch, and consider what variations of names should also be registered, including those of the “……sucks.com” variety.
From red flags to mobile phones
Kevin Delaney of the RAC Foundation for Motoring kept delegates entertained after lunch with an informative overview of how the legislators have dealt with regulating the motor industry over the last 100 years or so. Modern trends included the greater use of specific rather than general legislation, the withdrawal of the police from traffic enforcement, and greater reliance on technology.
OFT’s toolkit to make the market work for consumers
Colin Brown, the new Director of Co-regulation Codes and Co-ordination in the Consumer Regulation Enforcement Division told the conference that enforcement was only one part of the OFT’s “toolkit” in making the market work for consumers. Education and information both of industry and consumers, encouraging self-regulation, scrutinising the market, and engaging industry co-operation were all of equal importance with the final resort of enforcement. Examples of these approaches so far as the motor industry is concerned include the recent survey on warranties and servicing, the draft guidance on distance selling of cars (reported elsewhere in the current edition of Motor Law), and the work being done with the industry associations on new codes of practice. The new “Consumer Direct” initiative would also help consumers to become better informed and free up trading standards resources to tackle more serious cases.
Recent consumer law cases analysed
The conference was concluded by Motor Law editor Anthea Worsdall giving a survey of some recent cases affecting consumers. These included the problems of vehicle ownership illustrated by the recent House of Lords decision in the Hudson v Shogun Finance case, and the sale of goods case of Clegg v Olle Anderssen on when a customer can demand his money back.
Conference reports from previous years