Key Stage 3 Rights & Responsibilites

Year 8 Consumer/Trader Rights and Responsibilities

Return to Key Stage 3 Framework

Lesson Plan

Teaching ObjectivesPossible Teaching ActivityLearning Outcomes

Pupils should have a basic understanding of:

  • the importance of the law for Consumers
  • the difference between civil and criminal law
  • the types of criminal law enforced by Trading Standards Departments
  • the effects of underage product sales on both young people and traders
  • the different Court Structures that exist for dealing with breaches of Civil and Criminal Law
  • the difference in the types of penalties by the civil and criminal justice systems

Begin the lesson by talking about buying things and recapping the meanings of the 'consumer' . Also recap why it is necessary for consumer protection rules.

Introduce the word 'law' into the discussion. Ask the students to think of words that they associate with 'law'. Consider the historical development of the Law and explain to the class that there are different types of 'Law'.

Introduce the differences between 'Civil Law' and 'Criminal Law' and ask the students to reflect on these differences.

Look at the civil and criminal laws dealt with by Trading Standards. Use the buying of underage products as a detailed case study and discuss the different ages that you need to be to buy/do certain things.

Consider the structure of the Courts system and explain how different cases are dealt with by different Courts. Then look at the different types of penalties that are available within the Civil and Criminal Justice System.

  • Students will be able to recognise the difference between Civil and Criminal Law
  • Students will be able to recognise the importance of both Civil and Criminal Law for Consumer Protection
  • Students will learn about the structure of the Civil and Criminal Court Systems
  • Students will understand the difference in the types of penalties dispensed by the civil and criminal justice systems


Teachers Notes

What is a Consumer?

Background Information

When we are looking at the word 'Consumer', it is important that students realise that we are not just looking at buying and selling.

Anyone who buys a magazine or goes to the cinema is a Consumer and they are directly taking the decision to buy those goods or services.

Part of the dictionary definition of Consumer is 'the user of an article' and it is therefore important to remember that we are also Consumers when we pay for goods and services indirectly via our taxes, eg - schools and health service.

When we buy goods and services, there is usually a chain of other people involved and this can increase the chances of something going wrong.

It is, therefore, very important to have rules when both buying and selling goods to ensure that everyone involved in the chain expects the same thing to happen.

Rules also exist to ensure that Consumer has the:

Return to top


What do we mean by 'law'?

Background Information

This Country has a set of rules, which states how the Country should be governed, sets standards for personal behaviour and procedures for handling personal disputes. These rules are called the law.

The term 'law' has many different definitions. However, in this case we are concerned with the law of a state and we will, therefore, use the definition - 'a rule of human conduct, imposed upon and enforced among the members of a given state'.

If we are using this definition, then it is important to realise that not all rules are the law. For example - whether you have to wear a uniform is up to the school; it may be one of their rules but it isn't the law.

Who makes the Law?

Every day, the law affects everything that you do in your life and as a consumer, the law is there to help you get a fair deal by trying to strike a reasonable balance between you and the supplier.

Today, the law is made by Parliament, whose elected members from time to time produce statutes or Acts of Parliament that the rest of society must then follow.

English Law is one of the great systems of the world and one-third of all mankind is today ruled by laws that came originally from here.

The Law has developed from a number of different sources and students will be able to understand the basis of our legal system, by learning some of these basic historical developments of law.

Historical Developments

1) Common Law - English legal development stems from 1066 and the Norman Conquest. At this time, law existed but different judges from different areas made different decisions. This meant that there was no real legal system that anyone could rely on.

Some time around 1250, however, the judges began to apply the principle of 'stare decisis' (let the decision stand). This meant that whenever a judge made a decision on a new problem that had arisen, all of the other judges would follow the decision that had been made in that particular case.

This made the law more certain and predictable and this is when we acquired Common Law and our characteristic legal system.

2) Equity - Generally, equity means fairness. In English Law, equity has been described as a supplement to common law. It was developed as a way of filling in the gaps and making the English system more complete.

3) Judicature Acts 1873-75 - These Acts were a result of a period of Judicial reform during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The final results of the Acts were the fusion of the administration of common law and equity.

4) Legislation - The original role of the Monarch was merely to maintain order and peace and defend the state. Parliament developed as a group with representatives from around the Country, who would present the King with petitions requesting changes in the law that he may or may not grant. This has developed over time and today in Britain, we have a constitutional monarchy.

Although the Monarch (Queen Elizabeth II) is the head of the state, she has lost all actual power. She acts in accordance with the will of the Government of the day (headed by the Prime Minister and a Cabinet), which in itself is responsible to Parliament, which is composed of representatives of the people elected by popular vote.

Successive Governments have interfered more and more positively with the social, economic and industrial aspects of national affairs. Many areas of common law have now been reformed and legislation (Acts of Parliament) is therefore the main source of law today.

Suggested Teaching Activity

Classroom Discussion

Ask the students to think about the word Law.
How is the law different to rules?
What do the student think that the word law means?

Write down all of their different ideas. As a class, agree on the definition of law that you will use.

Return to top


What is the difference between Civil and Criminal Law?

Background Information

In order to understand how Consumer Law affects our everyday lives, it is important that students understand the difference between Civil and Criminal Law.

Our legal system divides our laws into two categories: civil and criminal. Each serves a very different purpose.

Civil Law

Civil Law deals with the rights and duties of one individual to another. One of the main areas of civil law that applies to Consumers is the law of Contract. The law will determine whether a promise is legally enforceable and what its legal consequences are.

For example: If you made a contract with a supplier and they let you down, perhaps by not delivering goods on an agreed date, then you'd look to the civil law to help you.

Similarly if a shop sold you faulty goods and refused to give you a refund it would be a civil matter.

Or if you lent something to a friend who refused to give it back, that too would be dealt with by civil law. Your friend wouldn't be a criminal but you could sue for the return of your property. If the Court thought your claim was fair they would probably order your friend to pay you compensation. The legal word for this is damages.

Criminal Law

Criminal Law is concerned with establishing social order and protecting the community as a whole. It gives us a set of rules for peaceful, safe and orderly living. People who break these laws can be prosecuted and if found guilty they could be fined or sent to prison, or both.

Most prosecutions are brought by the Police, for offences like murder and theft - but they aren't the only ones who enforce the criminal law.

Trading Standards Officers, Environmental Health Officers and Customs and Excise Officers can also prosecute offenders.

Many of our consumer laws come under the criminal category.

For example: traders can be prosecuted for serving short measure, or charging more than the advertised price, or watering-down alcohol or milk.

Problems like these would be investigated by local Trading Standards Departments on behalf of all the people living in the area.

Suggested Teaching Activity

Classroom Discussion

Look at the definition of law that your class agreed on in the previous teaching activity. Discuss and consider the need for law. What would happen if we didn't have any law?

Look at the definitions of Civil and Criminal Law and discuss the differences between them.

Give out the Students Worksheet and ask the students to read the different laws and decide whether they are civil or criminal law

Return to top


What types of civil and criminal laws are dealt with by Trading Standards?

Civil Law

Every consumer transaction is based on the law of contract. The consumer is agreeing to buy goods or services and the seller is agreeing to provide them.

Unfortunately, the major problem that buyers face is that the goods that they buy turn out to be defective, therefore civil law exists to provide rights and obligations for both the buyer and the seller.

Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended by The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002)
Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982

These are the major Acts that support and assist consumers when buying goods and services. These Acts are dealt with in greater detail in Year 9

Criminal Law

The following areas are all covered by criminal law, which means that any trader who breaks these laws can be prosecuted. All of these areas are enforced by Inspectors from the local Trading Standards Departments.

Weights & Measures Act 1985

This Act makes it illegal to give short weight or an inadequate quantity. Trading Standards Officers make sure that customers are not given less than they have paid for and that traders don't use inaccurate weighing or measuring equipment.

To do their job the Inspectors visit all kinds of premises including markets, shops, factories, mobile shops, petrol stations, one-day sales and pubs. They check scales, measures and metering equipment. They also make special test purchases to make certain that when customers buy something they are not being cheated.

It is a criminal offence to mark goods with a wrong indication of their amount.

For example: If you buy a bag of potatoes marked 1 kilo, then it should contain at least that amount and no less.

Many factory-packaged goods are now packed under what is called the average weight system. In practice, this means that some packs may contain fractionally more or less than the stated quantity subject to certain tolerance limits laid down in the Act.

Food Safety Act 1990

This Act is intended to make sure that we are not made ill or poisoned by the food we eat and that we are not cheated by false or misleading food labels or advertisements - like fake slimming aids and health foods.

Years ago it was not unusual for traders to tamper with the food they supplied.

Milk was a popular target for sabotage. Watering-down became so common that it was very rare to find any cream on the top. Beer and wine suffered similar fates too.

The Food Safety Act says that it is not only illegal to add anything harmful to food but it is also against the law to take anything away from it by diluting it or watering it down.

The law also covers what ingredients must be declared on food labels and that advertisements must be truthful.

For example: - if the label says 'Contains 10% butter', then the product has to contain exactly that. The label should give a list of ingredients and there are strict rules about what is allowed to go into a particular food.

Manufacturers who fail to meet these standards can be prosecuted, usually by Trading Standards Officers. Officers regularly take samples of all sorts of different foods and send them to an expert Analyst for testing. If the Analyst finds anything wrong he will report back to the Inspector who then decides what action to take. This will often lead to a case in the Criminal Courts.

The Act also controls food hygiene in factories, shops, cafés, restaurants, stalls, mobile shops and vehicles (like Ice-Cream and Burger vans). The rules about hygiene are usually enforced by Environmental Health Officers. If you see anything that suggests uncleanliness in a café, shop or restaurant, like a mouse or cockroach, you should report it to your local Environmental Health Department.

It is also against the law to sell food containing foreign bodies (ie, things that shouldn't be there at all). You would be surprised at some of the things that have turned up; a baby mouse in a bag of peanuts: a snail in a bottle of ginger beer; a frog in a packet of garden peas; even a rat in a sliced loaf!

Trade Descriptions Act 1968

This Act sets out to protect consumers from traders who either deliberately or accidentally mislead their customers.

It is a criminal offence for a trader to falsely describe the goods that they are selling.

For example:A trader supplying a second-hand car described as having had 'one careful lady owner and low mileage' which is later found to have had two previous owners and a false mileage reading has committed at least two criminal offences. The Act says that if you are given details like this then they must be true.

The Act also makes it illegal for traders to knowingly mislead you about the services they are providing. For example:

Consumer Credit Act 1974

This Act covers virtually all types of credit and hire agreements and aims to promote truth in lending. It seeks to ensure that consumers are given adequate information in credit agreements and that advertisements for credit are accurate.

Anyone who lends money, arranges credit or hires out goods for more than three months has to have a licence from the Office of Fair Trading in London. It is a criminal offence to trade without a licence.

Most credit deals involve something called 'interest' charges. These represent the cost of borrowing the money and a trader must give details about them. If interest is being charged on any loan it must be shown as an Annual Percentage Rate (or APR).

Consumer Protection Act 1987

Parts I and II of the Act deal with unsafe goods and seek to prevent or at least reduce the risk of consumers being injured by dangerous or defective goods.

It says that traders who supply new goods must make sure that those goods are safe. Specific safety standards have been provided to help traders to comply with the law. The range of goods covered by safety regulations include:

Anoraks for children must not be fastened at the neck by a drawstring.

Bunk beds must not have wide gaps that could trap young children.

Cosmetics should not damage your health or your body, and must not contain lead, other heavy metals or specific banned ingredients.

Toys must be flame-resistant and made without sharp edges or spikes or parts that can be easily pulled off (for example, removable eyes in soft toys and dolls). Plastic bags containing toys must either be thick or have an opening that is too small for a child's head.

This list is by no means complete but it will give you some idea of the wide range of items covered by safety regulations. Anyone in the chain of distribution who sells goods that do not meet the safety standards is committing a criminal offence.

Part III of this Act deals makes it a criminal offence for traders to mislead consumers about the selling price of goods, services, facilities and accommodation.

Some examples of illegal practices would be:

To help traders comply with the law the Government has produced a set of guidelines called the 'Code of Practice for Traders on Price Indications'. The Code gives advice on most areas of pricing and is intended as a good practice guide.

Suggested Teaching Activity

Classroom Quiz

Another area of Trading Standards work that is particularly relevant to young people is the sale of age-restricted products to anyone underage.

Over the centuries, adults have been worried that some young people may be exploited, so legal rules have been made to protect them by preventing them from carrying out certain activities.

Use the Quiz to see how much students already know about the ages that they have to reach before they are allowed to do certain things. When running through their answers, ask their opinions on whether they feel the ages are fair in each case and if not, why not.

Students Worksheet on Underage Sales

Here is a table to show what the law allows you to do at certain ages.

AgeWhat the law says you can do
Under 5You can appear in certain films

You must start full-time education

You can drink alcohol on private premises

7You can withdraw money from a Post Office Savings account
10You are considered capable of committing a crime and can be brought before a juvenile court
13You can work - but only for about 2 hours per day (for example, a paper round)
14You can be charged with a criminal offence
You can go into a pub but you can't drink alcohol there
You can drive a pedal cycle
15You can see a 'category 15' film
You can hold a Post Office Giro account
Under 16You can consent to some medical or contraceptive treatment and advice without your parents' consent or knowledge (as long as certain guidelines are followed)
16You can consent to all medical/contraceptive treatment
You can leave school.
You can marry but you need your parents' consent or that of the court
You can leave home if your parents agree
You can drink cider and beer but not spirits with a meal in a pub
You can buy a lottery ticket
You can buy a pet
Girls can consent to having sexual intercourse
You can drive a moped
You can change your surname with your parents' consent
You can ride a horse unsupervised
You can be tried in an adult court
You can drive a car or motorcycle
You can be a street trader
You can be a blood donor
18You are no longer a 'minor' and can:
Buy tobacco and cigarettes
Buy or hire a firearm and apply for a licence
Buy gas lighter fuel
Buy and drink alcohol in a pub
Buy Fireworks
See a 'category 18' film.
Serve on a jury
Join the armed forces without parental consent
Play bingo or bet
Own a house or flat
Be tattooed
Make a will
Take out H.P. or other credit agreement including a mortgage
Marry without parental consent
21You can become an MP or local councillor
You can drive a heavy goods vehicle

The work undertaken by Trading Standards on Underage Sales is very important. It protects the health and well-being of young people and it helps protect your local community by, for example, preventing underage drinkers causing damage in the local town centre.

Return to top


How do the Court Systems work?

Background Information

The Courts are concerned with determining the outcome of both civil and criminal matters. The Courts for these two areas are organised separately.

View a diagram showing the structure of the Courts Systems (

The Criminal Court System

A criminal trial involves the adjudication of a dispute between a person and the State, in which the latter seeks to have the former punished. There is a big difference between minor and serious criminal activities.

Magistrates' Courts - These courts deal with the less serious forms of criminal activity. Juries are not used in these Courts.

Crown Courts - These deal with the more serious forms of criminal activity. The use of juries is an important part of the work of these courts. Find out more about the Criminal Court System (

The Criminal Justice System On-line website ( shows the progress of a case though the criminal court system and highlights where young people may be involved.

The Civil Court System

Hears disputes between two private parties. The State is not directly involved with the presentation of a case and the aim of seeking arbitration by the Courts is for one party to assert wrongdoing by another and be awarded compensation for their losses.

As with Criminal Courts, civil courts are also graded as follows:

County Court - these deal with a wide range of civil disputes. They also deal with family matters such as divorce and child custody.

Small Claims Procedure - used to deal with most smaller disputes between buyers and sellers where the maximum sum claimed cannot exceed £5,000. These are usually heard in front of a District Judge at County Court.

The High Court - this hears the more serious civil cases and is divided into 3 divisions:

The following list comprises 'Appeal Courts':

Court of Appeal - This Court hears criminal appeals from the Crown Court and also civil appeals from the County Court and High Court.

House of Lords - This constitutes the final court of appeal for both civil and criminal cases. Before the United Kingdom joined the European Union, this was the highest Court in the land. If you lost your case here then you could not appeal any higher.

Since joining the European Union, cases can now be taken to:

Court of Justice (of the European Communities) - The main purpose of this Court is to ensure that European law is adhered to within member countries (for example, France, Italy and Germany).

The Court you will go to depends on the type of case with which you are involved. Different types of courts hand out different types of penalties:


1) DAMAGES - This is the most frequently sought form of redress. By damages we usually mean money. It is financial compensation for what has happened.

2) INTEREST - Interest on the damages given to you by the court may also be payable by the losing party - often payable from the date the dispute or accident occurred.

3) COSTS - It is generally accepted that the loser pays the winner's costs of bringing the case to court. Costs awarded to the winner in Small Claims Track cases are generally minimal. However, for cases where the claim is over £5000 there is a risk that the loser of the case will have to pay substantial costs.

4) AGGRAVATED DAMAGES - The civil courts will not send you to prison if you lose your case because their aim is to compensate the injured party for their financial losses. Punishment is a matter for Criminal Courts. However, if a defendant behaves very unreasonably then the winning claimant can apply to get extra money to 'punish' the defendant for the way they behaved.

5) SPECIFIC PERFORMANCE - If a trader breaks an agreement to sell goods or services, then the buyer can sue for damages. In rare cases, an alternative for the Court to consider is specific performance. For example, if an Art Dealer agrees to sell a rare Van Gogh painting and then refuses for no good reason, the court can order specific performance, which means that the painting must be handed over to the buyer.

6) INJUNCTIONS - A positive injunction means that the other party must do something for the winner of a court case. A negative injunction orders the loser to REFRAIN from doing something.


If you are found guilty of a criminal offence, then you may receive the following punishments:

1) IMPRISONMENT - The judge would order you to be placed in prison and also recommend the length of the sentence that you should serve.

2) FINE - The judge would order you pay an amount of money that s/he considers adequate to punish you for the offence that you committed.

3) BAN AND/OR POINTS ON A DRIVING LICENCE - Depending on the seriousness of traffic offences, a judge can ban you from driving for a set amount of time. You can also be awarded points on your licence. If the points on your licence exceed a certain limit then you will automatically be banned from driving.

4) ABSOLUTE/CONDITIONAL DISCHARGE - These are nominal penalties that a judge can give out in certain circumstances.

5) COMMUNITY SERVICE - A judge can order you to do a set amount of hours working for your community.

6) SUSPENDED SENTENCES - This is where you are not sent to prison but time is added on for that crime if you later commit any further imprisonable offences within a certain period of time.

7) COMPENSATION ORDERS - A judge can make you pay compensation to the victims of your crime.

Suggested Teaching Activity

Debating Topic - Trial by Jury

There are a number of safeguards designed to ensure that people who come before the court are given a fair hearing.

Juries are designed to provide a trial by one's equals. The members of a Jury are selected randomly and their key role is to listen to the evidence presented by the defence and prosecution in a trial.

They must then determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant based upon all the facts that have been given to them during the course of the trial.

Currently, when someone is accused of a crime and has a trial by jury, the jury are not told about any previous convictions they may have. This is to ensure that the accused is tried fairly for the crime for which they are in Court. Do you think that this is right?

How would you feel if you were a member of a jury and you found someone not guilty only to find they had committed a similar offence several years before that you knew nothing about?

Further information on juries can be found on the Court Service website (

Return to top