In this week's Mailbox we look into a new law extending the warranty period, find out why it now takes longer to solve court cases, and see how BSE varies from Creutzfeld Jakobs Disease. Listeners quoted are Susanne Brighton, Stanley White, and Dennis O'Connor.

As of January 1st this year, a new law extends the warranty period to two years for all products and gives consumers the right to choose whether they want a faulty good to be repaired or replaced. Susanne Brighton, who visited the Czech Republic for a few days, has already experienced first hand that some businesses fail to respect the new law:

"I live in Germany and just came back from a three-day visit to a friend who lives close to the town of Ceske Budejovice. At a local market, I bought a pair of running shoes from an Asian vendor. My Czech friend asked for a receipt and a guarantee card but was refused. He said the law did not apply to goods bought at markets. Is that true?"

I'm afraid it isn't. The man should have given you the receipt and the guarantee. The only goods that are not covered by the new law are used goods bought in so-called bazaars or second-hand stores. If the running shoes you bought were new, you should have the right to return them within two years if they prove to be faulty. Unfortunately, it's too late now. But what your friend can do is contact the Czech Trade Inspection and have someone go to the market undercover.

Another question that is often raised is where one should go to when a product is faulty within the two-year warranty period. Some sales clerks apparently tell their customers that they have to contact the local distributor directly and not the place where the good was bought. That too is not true. According to the law, it is the vendor's responsibility to take back a faulty good and either have it repaired or provide a replacement. When buying electronic equipment, make sure you get a certificate of warranty that has been properly filled out and stamped. Without it, you don't have the right to claim back anything, even if it is proved faulty and you have a receipt.

Moving on to a question from Stanley White:

"I recently moved to Prague from the USA in order to brush up on my Czech, which I learned at our local university. I come from the Chicago area, which has a large Czech community and hope to use my experiences here to help Czechs back home to keep in touch with their European homeland. I was wondering whether you could help me understand an article in Monday's Mlada Fronta Dnes, which said something like judges are slow because of recordings."

Well, according to the daily, as of January 1, all Czech court proceedings are being recorded in order to shorten the time it takes to resolve a case. However, it is taking much longer to close court cases in many courts around the country because there aren't enough people to transcribe the recordings.

Dennis O'Connor is a regular short-wave listener and has been tuning in to Radio Prague on and off for the past ten years. He writes in for the first time, though, and wants to know:

Photo: Radio Prague
"You have probably heard about the first case of BSE that appeared in North America. I remember hearing a Radio Prague report where you tell us that the Czech Republic has had a few confirmed cases already. Can humans get BSE and how much of a fuss are the Czech people doing about it? I would also like to know how many cases you have had."

BSE, the abbreviation for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, which is also known as mad cow disease, can only be found in animals. However, the reason why we worry when a cow is found to have it is because it is believed that, from eating infected beef, we can get what is called new variant Creutzfeld Jakobs disease, which is said to be the human form of mad cow disease. Now, it's been termed "new variant" because Creutzfeld Jakobs disease itself is the "regular" form of the disease which doctors believe is hereditary and occurs naturally in humans.

So far, about 500,000 cows have been tested in the Czech Republic. The first confirmed case of BSE was in 2001. There have been only eight cases so far. While stores around the country did feel a considerable drop in beef sales after the first confirmed case, Czechs no longer feel as threatened as they did three years ago and now eat as much beef as before. It also must be said that no one has been diagnosed with new variant Creutzfeld Jakobs disease in the Czech Republic so far.

Our time is almost up so here's a quick reminder of our listeners' competition. Your task for the month of January is to: "name the distinguished Czech composer who lived from 1874 to 1935, whose 130th anniversary of his birth is being celebrated this month." You have until the end of the month to get your answers to the Radio Prague English Section, 120 99 Prague 2, the Czech Republic or by e-mail to [email protected].