LCQ22: Enforcement of the Trade Descriptions (Unfair Trade Practices) (Amendment) Ordinance 2012
Following is a question by the Hon Holden Chow and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (November 1):
Question: The Trade Descriptions (Unfair Trade Practices) (Amendment) Ordinance 2012 (Ordinance No. 25 of 2012) amended the Trade Descriptions Ordinance (Cap. 362) to crack down on common unfair trade practices, and the relevant amendments have come into full operation since July 19, 2013. Regarding the enforcement of the aforesaid legislative amendments by the Customs and Excise Department, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the Department's manpower responsible for the relevant law enforcement work in each of the past three years;
(2) of the following statistics on the relevant law enforcement work since the aforesaid legislative amendments came into operation:
(i) the number of prosecutions and, among such cases, the number of those involving repeated offenders;
(3) whether the Department has plans to step up its law enforcement actions in the coming year; if so, of the details of such plans as well as the additional manpower and budgeted expenses involved?
President, The amended Trade Descriptions Ordinance (Cap. 362) (the Ordinance) came into full operation on July 19, 2013. The Ordinance, which covers goods and services, prohibits unfair trade practices including false trade descriptions, misleading omissions, aggressive commercial practices, bait-and-switch, bait advertising and wrongly accepting payment. The Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) has been adopting a three-pronged approach in enforcing the relevant requirements:
(a) compliance promotion – through conducting briefings for and visits to traders, C&ED tenders advice and guidance to traders on the legal requirements under the Ordinance as well as measures that should be taken for complying with the Ordinance;
(b) enforcement – C&ED takes necessary and timely enforcement actions to combat non-compliant conducts, so as to build public confidence; and
(c) publicity and education – C&ED, in co-ordination with the Consumer Council, has launched extensive publicity and education programmes, raising consumers' awareness of unfair trade practices, promoting the concept of "smart consumption", and also promoting good practices amongst traders. As the Ordinance covers a wide range of goods and services, in order to facilitate traders’ compliance and optimise the use of enforcement resources, C&ED adopts a risk-based approach under which priority is accorded to handling cases that may have significant implications on consumers, the trades or the community at large.
Regarding the three parts of the question, the reply is as follow:
(1) In the past three financial years, C&ED's staffing and expenses involved in enforcing the Ordinance are as follows:
(2) Since the implementation of the Ordinance in July 2013 until September 2017, C&ED's statistics of enforcement in relation to the Ordinance are as follows:
Among the cases convicted between July 2013 and September 2017, some offenders were sentenced to immediate imprisonment ranging from 14 days to six months. For cases with suspended sentence, the offenders were sentenced to imprisonment ranging from 14 days (suspended for 18 months) to eight months (suspended for two years). Some offenders were fined or sentenced to Community Service Orders. The fines ranged from $500 to $152,000 while the Community Service Orders ranged from 60 hours to 240 hours. Also, some offenders were sentenced to a probation order, or to training centre or detention centre (Note 3).
(3) In the coming year, C&ED would continue to enforce the Ordinance proactively and tackle common unfair trade practices from various angles to protect the interest of consumers. C&ED would, based on actual situation such as changes in trends of unfair trade practices deployed and changes in types and numbers of complaints, take targeted enforcement actions such as test-buy operations. Also, C&ED would enhance its efforts in conducting compliance promotion as well as publicity and education for the public and the trades with a view to achieving greater enforcement effectiveness. During the National Day Golden Week long vacation periods of the Mainland, C&ED would step up enforcement actions and patrols, including distribution of leaflets to tourists, tour guides and traders in shopping spots arranged by tour groups and shops in tourist areas, in order to promote smart consumption among tourists and remind traders to abide by the Ordinance. Besides, C&ED would actively conduct patrols at large-scale exhibitions held in Hong Kong, which include explaining to the exhibitors the requirements of the Ordinance and distributing leaflets to call for compliance prior to the start of the exhibitions. During the exhibitions, on-site patrols would be conducted to ensure compliance, while quick response teams would immediately attend to complaints and follow up with reports of suspected violation of the Ordinance. C&ED would flexibly deploy its resources and review its manpower at suitable time in order to cope with the relevant work and future challenges.
Note 1: As the rank of the staff responsible for enforcing the Ordinance changed, the expenses involved in 2016/17 and 2017/18 were lower than that of 2015/16.
Note 2: There are nine cases with on-going legal proceedings.
Note 3: In one case, C&ED charged the defendants with fraud under the Theft Ordinance, as well as false trade descriptions under the Ordinance as alternative charges. The two defendants were convicted of fraud and were sentenced to training centre and detention centre respectively.
Ends/Wednesday, November 1, 2017