Court of Appeal Signals Clamp Down on Rogue Traders

Vulnerable people, particularly the elderly, often fall victim to rogue traders who offer their dubious goods and services door to door. However, the Court of Appeal has emphasised in one important case that the law must rise to the challenge of protecting them.

The case concerned a dishonest tradesman whose modus operandi was to carry out largely worthless and shoddily executed work on pensioners’ drives before massively overcharging them. He had attracted the attention of the Office of Fair Trading and a local authority for several years but had persisted in his dishonest ways.

He had not been deterred by a court order, which placed strict limits on his business activities, and was eventually sentenced to a four-month jail term for contempt of court. However, he was released after serving only eight days of that sentence after he told a judge that he was sorry and would not do it again.

The local authority challenged the latter decision on the basis that it was excessively lenient. It was submitted that an example needed to be made of the man and that his release so early on in his sentence sent the wrong message that rogue traders could secure their freedom merely by proffering an apology.

The Court found that no real consideration had been given as to whether it was right to release the man so quickly. The sincerity of his regret was doubtful and fell far short of considered and reasoned contrition. Giving guidance for the future, the Court observed that judges should not be too ready to accept such apologies and should bear in the mind the public interest in wrongdoers being properly punished.

In formally dismissing the council’s appeal, however, the Court found that it was too late to send the man back to prison to complete his sentence. It expressed sympathy for the council’s position and the hope that its decision would achieve the worthwhile objective of encouraging sterner punishment of rogue traders.

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