Basics of the UK legal system
Whichever part of the UK you live in the legal system offers plenty of protection.
Lawyer Duncan Lamont explains the basics of consumer law.
In practice, there's little difference between English and Northern Ireland law but Scotland is different - the courts have different names and follow different procedures. Some English laws don't apply to Scotland and vice versa.
Law consists of common law (decisions made by judges over the years) and statute law (decisions made by parliament and also the EU Parliament). Statute law is usually more helpful for consumers, because most consumer laws extend the rights people have in common law by laying down specific conditions.
Consumer law has its roots in laws regulating trade that date back centuries. But virtually all law that matters to consumers today has been introduced since the 1970s.
There are about a dozen significant acts and many more regulations, but fortunately most of these can be safely left to solicitors. In fact, it's questionable whether consumers actually need to know any law at all.
It's a pretty useful strategy to use your common sense to judge whether or not a trader is in the right or wrong.
When something isn't right, simply ask yourself (or better ask your family or friends) what is reasonable to expect and do. Most consumer law and its interpretation in the courts is based on a 'reasonableness' test. So most of the time you'll be absolutely right, but not always. Consumer law in Britain does sometimes give us more rights than our common sense might lead us to believe - and that's worth knowing about.
The contents of this website are not intended to be a substitute for individual professional advice. The content of this section is based on the law applying on 30 November 2012.