Exploring vulnerability in EU Law: An analysis of 'vulnerability' in EU criminal law and consumer protection law

Lisa Waddington*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article explores the understanding and use of the concept of vulnerability in European Union (EU) law, with a particular focus on the fields of criminal law and consumer protection law. It draws on Fineman’s understanding of vulnerability as a universal phenomenon, and considers the scope for, and policy implications of, incorporating (further) such an approach within these fields of law. The article reveals that there is no common understanding of the concept of vulnerability in the fields of EU criminal law and consumer protection law, and there is a lack of overall coherence across these two fields of law.
In fact, a common understanding is not even necessarily found within single fields. The purposes served by highlighting“vulnerable”groups and individuals in legislation differs, and references to“vulnerability” result in a stronger focus on the need for individualised assessments, and tailored measures, in EU criminal law than is the case for EU consumer protection law. Indeed, the provisions addressing "vulnerable” consumers are particularly brief and provide very little extra protection. However, both fields of EU law also reveal evidence of a universal approach to vulnerability being taken with regard to communication and information provision, which should be tailored to individual needs and abilities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779-801
Number of pages23
JournalEuropean Law Review
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Comparative law;
  • Consumer protection law
  • Criminal law
  • Vulnerable adults
  • EU law

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