Law No. (8) of (2008) regarding Consumer Protection (the "Consumer Protection Law") was enacted in recognition of the demand of unlucky recipients of unscrupulous merchants. Previously protection had been granted under Law No. (2) of (1999) on Combating Commercial Fraud. Traditionally, save for the 1999 law, consumers had, in the event of faults or malpractice, little or no recourse against suppliers and, thus, advertisements informing the consumer about products became inflated with over-exaggerated descriptions. Other underhand practices also appeared, such as the sale of defective or sub-standard goods, misrepresentation of prices (influencing inflation) and negligence over safety standards. It became necessary, therefore, to introduce statutory measures to bring suppliers to the Qatar market into line and to make them more accountable to their consumers. The 2008 Consumer Protection Law came at a time when other countries in the GCC were also trying to tackle consumer protection issues and similar laws were enacted at around the same time in the UAE and Syria.

At the end of last year, Law No. (8) of (2008) was amended by Law No (14) of (2011). The article below sets out the remit of the 2008 Consumer Protection Law and the effect of the amendments made to it at the end of last year.

The Consumer Protection Law, in essence, protects the rights of the consumer in actions against a supplier or advertiser of goods. For example, this could be from the sale of goods, the provision of a service or from advertising of these services or goods. Article 2 of the Consumer Protection Law provides examples of how a consumer's rights are guaranteed and also includes provision for the right to the protection of health and safety when using commodities and services, as well as the right to participate in any society or council related to consumer protection.

Article 3 of the Consumer Protection Law provides that:

"The consumer shall have the right to require fair compensation for any damage to his person or property as a result of buying or using commodities or receiving services. Any agreement to the contrary shall be invalid".

Thus, the onus is on the supplier to initially refund or replace the defective item, as well as incorporate into any contract the obligation to repair, maintain or offer an after-sale service for the commodity in question.

The supplier is further obliged not to sell, display, or otherwise offer any defective commodity, and commodities on display must be clearly marked with all relevant product information. Consumers must be made aware of dangerous items and the supplier will be liable for any non-compliance with conditions relating to health and safety. If a supplier discovers that the commodity or service is faulty in any way, he must immediately withdraw it from sale and advise the relevant local authorities. For locally produced goods, both the manufacturer and the seller will be jointly liable for losses caused by such fault.

Further, the Consumer Protection Law deals with price, whereby the supplier is legally obliged to prominently display the price of any commodity. The consumer can also expect to receive a detailed invoice confirming the sale as similarly found in Law No. (19) of (2006) regarding Competition Protection and the Prevention of Monopolistic Practices. Under Article 10 its is not permissible for:

"Suppliers to conceal or abstain from selling any commodity with intent to control the market price, or require the consumer to buy a specific quantity thereof, or buy another commodity therewith, or charge a higher price than that advertised".

As an addition by virtue of Law No. (14) of (2011), Article 10 states that a Supplier,

"...may not increase the prices of commodities and services without compliance with the rules and controls applied by virtue of a resolution to be issued by the Minister (of Business and Trade)".

Article 18 of the Consumer Protection Law provides details of the penalties unscrupulous suppliers can expect to incur should they contravene the law, namely "detention for a term not exceeding two years and fine". Pursuant to the amendments made by Law No. (14) of (2011), such fine has been changed from one of between 5,000 and 10,000 Riyals to one of between 3000 and 1 million Riyals. This penalty doubles if the supplier repeats the offence within five years of the original infringement. Further, if the supplier fails to advise of a dangerous commodity the fine has been amended to one of between 15,000 and 100,000 Riyals to one of between 15,000 and 1 million Riyals. However, suppliers who unwittingly advertise incorrect information are excluded from this penalty if it is determined that the information provided was too technical to verify.

Law No (14) of (2011) further adds that violating shops can be closed by up to three months where repeat violations occur.

Local authorities may, if a situation is not corrected within a specified time, suspend a supplier's activities for a period of a maximum ten days, destroy any defective goods and refer the matter to the court for further action.

Whilst the law in Qatar may not be yet as comprehensive as laws in other jurisdictions, it nonetheless offers consumers the right to be heard and to receive due consideration. Under the auspices of the Specifications, Measures and Consumer Protection Department at the Ministry of Business & Trade, the increased penalties should act as a deterrent.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.