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GOC prosecution of eBay highlights loophole in law

6 Mar 2006

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General Optical Council Press Release – 6 March 2006

GOC prosecution of eBay highlights loophole in law

The General Optical Council said today that their prosecution of eBay for aiding and abetting illegal contact lens sales highlighted a problem with laws on Internet auction websites.

At a hearing at the City of London Magistrate’s Court today, the GOC offered no evidence in support of the 10 summonses issued against E-Bay (UK) Ltd last August under Section 27(1) of the Opticians Act 1989.

The GOC brought the prosecution in the belief that eBay should actively monitor its website and de-list contact lenses that were being offered for sale unlawfully. The Council has been advised that under European law, www.ebay.co.uk, cannot be required to actively monitor its listings.1

Peter Coe, GOC registrar said: “The Council took action on this issue because of the dangers to consumers buying and wearing contact lenses which have not been fitted by a qualified professional. We recognise that eBay has put in place listing policies addressing these issues and appears to be ensuring that unlawful auctions of contact lenses are removed from the website. Hopefully the public is also now more aware of the risks of buying and wearing contact lenses from unregulated sellers.

“However, this case has highlighted a loophole in laws designed for public protection. We feel that it is an unreasonable burden for a regulator, with limited resources, to have to monitor the millions of listings on auction websites. In effect, we would have to notify the website of each individual instance of an illegal sale in order for it to be de-listed.”

Even cosmetic contact lenses can pose serious risks to wearers’ eye health. Lenses sit directly on the eye, and can potentially cause irritation and infection. Wearers could become intolerant, and not be able to use contact lenses in future. However, in the most serious cases, problems could result in vision loss and blindness.

All contact lenses should be fitted by a qualified optician or doctor, and lens wearers are advised to have regular check-ups.

ENDS

For further information, please contact:

Kate Fielding
Communications Manager
General Optical Council
t: 020 7307 3472
m: 07763 210019
e: kfielding@optical.org

Notes to editors

1. eBay qualifies as a ‘hosting company’ under the European eCommerce Directive, which means that they cannot be required to actively monitor their listings. It has also become clear that the www.ebay.co.uk website is operated by E-Bay International AG, a company based in Switzerland.

About the General Optical Council
The GOC is the regulator for the optical professions in the UK. Its purpose is to protect the public by promoting high standards of education and conduct amongst opticians. The Council currently registers around 22,000 optometrists, dispensing opticians, student opticians and optical businesses.



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