It is now 36 years since the UN proclaimed 15 March as World Consumer Rights Day and despite progress, there is unfortunately a long way to go. The legal profession, together with the judiciary, has played an important role in defending the rights of consumers. This has been the case, both in cases of great social impact, whether preferential or bank contracts in general, and in certain practices that have subjected the consumer to forced arbitration for problems arising from telephone contracts and airlines. Faced with these situations, the Courts of Justice have been used mainly, but alternatives such as mediation have also been used less visibly.
The legal profession has used and demanded the application of all the consumer defence rules and mechanisms that the legal system offers it. At a time when the spirit of the European Union is being called into question, it is essential to remember that we have the invaluable protection of Community law. It is undeniable that there is a Europe of consumers; having been the one that has contributed most to modernising our consumer law, that is to say, to protecting consumers in a much more effective way, for the fact is that without a supranational right and a Court of Justice such as that of the European Union we would still not have genuine consumer protection.
Certain legal amendments, such as that of the new law regulating property loans, should certainly help to prevent situations such as those suffered in mortgage contracts. All of this without forgetting that financial institutions must be able to implement mechanisms for the extrajudicial resolution of conflicts in order to avoid consumers necessarily having to resort to the ordinary Courts of Justice so that a quick, useful and effective response can be offered, also in the case of claims in many cases of reduced amounts.
In the contracting of consumers, one of the sectors that still has much to gain in transparency and in the balance between their interests and their rights is that of insurance. Greater control is needed to avoid situations of abuse due to a lack of transparency and insufficient information for the consumer, and the entities must assume responsibility for certain violations that may affect their credibility in the eyes of society.
Whatever the sector in question, all the institutions involved in the administration of justice must be aware of their role in defending consumer rights. Judges have thus assumed this responsibility in our country, as the large number of questions they have raised before the European Court of Justice demonstrates. Also decisive is the leading role of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which in certain situations of abuse against consumers intervene as a public, decisive and resolute action that prevents them from happening again in the future (think of the issue of preferences, for example).
While it is well known that consumer rights go hand in hand with the legal profession, it is also acceptable to recognise the work of associations, which has been essential in protecting the rights of citizens; both work together to undertake a defence of consumers on the basis of commitment and determination so that their rights are recognised and applied effectively before the courts. [PIEPAG-TRIB]