A Comparative Analysis of The Legal Norms For e-Commerce and Consumer Protection
Department of Public Law, Faculty of Law,Bayero University Kano
School of law, Universiti Utara Malaysia
E-commerce transactions are rapidly replacing conventional face-to-face commercial transactions. The old rules and norms governing the sale of goods and services are becoming obsolete and incapable of addressing legal issues emerging from e-commerce transactions. Hence, there is a need for an upgrade of the legal norms, statutes, or rules governing commercial transactions in the present 21st century. To address this challenge, the United Nations (UN) adopted the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on E-commerce (UMLE) in 1996 designed to cater for outdated laws or inadequacy of the national laws which were enacted without e-commerce in mind. The UMLE aims at ensuring uniform and harmonised rules governing e-commerce across the globe. Now, the question is: do countries such as Malaysia, Nigeria, and hosts of others take proactive measures to address this challenge? To what extent? Do the international legal instruments play any role in addressing this challenge? To what extent as well? These are some of the nagging questions that form the basis of this paper. Thus, the objective of the paper is to study key provisions of the UMLE with particular reference to how UMLE comes in to protect electronic commerce consumers. It also explores a comparative analysis of the UMLE as domesticated by several countries identified in this paper. This is done to make appropriate recommendations for improvement. The paper adopts a doctrinal/content analysis and comparative methodologies in achieving its objectives. Relevant provisions of the UMLE, selected local legislation, decided cases, as well as related legal articles were carefully examined. The findings reveal the need for e-commerce clear legal rules in any given country. Although many countries such as Malaysia have so far enacted e-commerce legislation based on the UMLE, the paper further reveals that the UMLE is long overdue for review. The paper, therefore, recommends specific amendments to the UMLE such as inter alia the inclusion of the rights of consumers to obtain receipts for online purchases, elaboration of the definition of e-commerce, as well as the prohibition of inserting unfair trade terms. Countries with or without e-commerce legislation should also effect amendments mutatis mutandis, thereby aligning the norms and rules with the current technological developments and realities. For proper interpretation of e-commerce and consumer protection norms, countries should constantly acquire guidance from cases collated and uploaded on the UNCITRAL website. This will promote international awareness along with a uniform interpretation and application of the UMLE and other legal texts produced by the UNCITRAL.
Keywords: E-commerce, Legal norms, Comparative, Uncitral, transactions