Consumers will have the backing from the courts to sue manufacturers and retailers of unsafe food and pharmaceuticals even before any harm is inflicted when new guidelines introduced by a top court come into effect.
The 18-clause guidelines on how to handle civil disputes regarding food, drugs, cosmetics and dietary supplements announced by the Supreme People's Court yesterday, emphasise protecting consumers' rights and even encourage the public to seek legal redress.
The guidelines - along with an amended consumer protection law - come into effect on March 15, World Consumer Rights Day.
More than 13,000 civil cases involving food and drugs were handled by courts across the country between 2010 and 2012, accounting for 6 per cent of consumer rights cases, the court said.
Zhang Yongjian, the presiding judge of Civil Trial Court No1 of the Supreme People's Court, said few consumers sued for compensation because the amounts involved were not large or because of effort needed to go to court.
"We hope these interpretations of laws will raise consumers' awareness of their rights and that they will wage a people's war against makers and sellers of substandard or fake goods and clean up the market," Zhang said.
The guidelines cover disputes involving consumers, manufactures, retailers, ad agencies and publishers, among others.
Cosmetics and dietary products, even though they were not drugs, were also covered, Zhang said.
The guidelines stipulate consumers could sue manufactures who produced substandard products - and retailers who sold the products knowing they were shoddy - for 10 times of the price of the individual product, court spokesman Sun Jungong said.
Sun said the regulations would have a "positive impact on unifying rulings" and "protecting the legal rights of consumers", as well as ensuring the food and pharmaceuticals markets observed good practices.
Courts would support consumers' demand that manufacturers and sellers prioritise payment of damages and compensation when defendants are deemed to be criminally and administratively liable.
"The consumers are considered the weak party and, without the principle of civil liabilities first, they might win a case but be unable to get compensation. This will protect the utmost legal rights of consumers," Sun said.