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Australian Consumer Law Review is a step in the right direction, but consumer lawyers say more is needed

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Leading consumer lawyers have welcomed the release of the Final Report of the Australian Consumer Law Review as a step in the right direction, but warn more needs to be done.

The report, released this month, provides a roadmap to Government on how it can improve Australia’s consumer laws, in order to provide more legal certainty and protect consumers.

Slater and Gordon Senior Associate James Naughton said more steps should be taken to ensure consumers can easily access these legal protections.

“Some recommendations of the report, including expanded evidence rules, would definitely help correct the imbalance that’s preventing consumers from exercising their rights,” Mr Naughton said.

“However, not many consumers would actually make it far enough into the legal process to utilise these proposed changes to the ACL.

“Many fall at the first instance, fearing potential financial repercussions of initiating legal action against more powerful and better-resourced corporations.”

In Slater and Gordon’s submission to the ACL Review, Mr Naughton proposed some ways to remove this barrier.

“One way the Government could address the imbalance is by introducing a legal costs cap on claims brought by consumers,” Mr Naughton said.

“Another possible option is establishing a legal action fund for consumers with valid claims, to ensure they have the opportunity to have their voice heard.”

Mr Naughton said the Government should also adopt the recommendation of the Review that would allow consumers to rely on evidence established in previously heard cases.

“If adopted, this proposal would mean consumers could rely on admissions made by traders in previous Court cases as evidence in their own cases,” Mr Naughton said.

“Many consumers bringing private claims against traders find themselves having to prove issues that have previously been admitted by those traders, for example where claims had originally been brought against a trader by the ACCC.

“Removing this hurdle would allow consumers to exercise their rights more easily and reduce the number of instances where accessing the courts is too costly to be worthwhile.”

Slater and Gordon made submissions to the Australian Consumer Law Review independently, as well as collaboratively with the Law Council of Australia. The Final Report is available here: http://consumerlaw.gov.au/review-of-the-australian-consumer-law/final-report/