New laws are planned for holidaymakers to deal with `rip-offs' in Europe

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is to introduce laws to help British tourists sue if they feel they have been overcharged or poorly served while on holiday in Europe.

Under the scheme, holidaymakers who buy fake or faulty goods overseas or even receive bad service at restaurants will be able to bring a small claim in a similar fashion to the procedure for the United Kingdom.

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) said the new claims procedure would help British citizens who, having returned from holiday, chose not to go to the great lengths required to get compensation. Eventually, it is hoped, it could curb the "rip-off industry" built up around some of Europe's popular resorts.

Keith Vaz, parliamentary secretary at the LCD, will tell a meeting of European justice ministers in Turku, Finland, today that access to justice is important for all European Union citizens. This means that while British holidaymakers or workers abroad will be able to claim against fake goods or "shoddy workmanship", so will EU citizens who are given a rough deal on visits to the UK.

Mr Vaz will tell his EU counterparts that because travel and tourism are set to increase more people will be involved in cross-border disputes. "My view is that the mechanisms let citizens down when things go wrong outside their own countries and they need legal advice," he said yesterday.

"There is evidence that consumer concerns that they will be unable to obtain redress leads to a marked reluctance among ordinary people to buy goods when they are travelling," Mr Vaz added. This, the LCD argues, is an obstacle to the "proper functioning" of the single market.

The LCD proposes to launch a "rolling programme" of schemes to allow EU citizens greater access to justice. The projects include simpler procedures so that suing a company, trader or salesman in European countries will be no different to bringing a small claim in this country.

The principle mirrors the Lord Chancellor's own Access to Justice Act which was passed this summer. Its fundamental aim is to help more people settle their legal problems at a reduced cost and in less time. The LCD's plans for Europe are based on the compatibility of the legal systems in Scotland and England and Wales.

Mr Vaz said: "There are some major differences, for example in the Scottish law of real property and that in England and Wales; yet this does not cause problems."