Which court is competent?

Are you in dispute with a trader based in another EU country? In that case, you are probably wondering which court would be authorised to deal with your case? ECC Belgium provides a general overview based on European Directive 1215/2012 and specifically looks at online purchases.

Which court?

In principle, you would approach the court in the country where the other party is based. Would you prefer to go to court in your own country? Check the following:

A. Do any of the following circumstances apply to you?

  • You have taken on a installment loan.
  • You entered into a hire purchase agreement.
  • The seller focuses his activities on your country of residence.

Conclusion: you can approach the court in your own country.

B. Do none of the above-mentioned circumstances apply to you? Check the general terms and conditions in your contract which you specifically accepted. They will stipulate which court is authorised to deal with your case.

C. Do none of the above-mentioned circumstances apply to you and do the general terms and conditions not stipulate a specific court? You can choose between a court in the European country where:

  • your product was or should have been delivered
  • your service was or should have been executed.

Does the dispute relate to air travel? The location is either the point of departure or the destination of the flight, as described in the contract.

Are the other party’s headquarters based outside the European Union? But is there a subsidiary, agency or other representation within the EU? In that case, the above-mentioned rules also apply.

Note: have you approached the wrong court? It may reject your complaint (if the other party uses the argument that you did not approach the competent court).

Which court for online purchases?

Which court is authorised to deal with online purchases from a site in another EU country? Good question. If the trader focuses his activities on Belgium, you can indeed approach the Belgian courts.

But how can you be sure that a trader focuses on the Belgian market?

The Court of Justice of the European Union has defined a non-exhaustive list of criteria that point in that direction:

  • The commercial activities have an international flavour (e.g. they are related to tourism).
  • The website provides a route description from your country to the trader’s country.
  • You can make a purchase on the site in another language but pay in your own currency.
  • The site provides a telephone number with the international prefix for your country.
  • The trader uses search engine advertising to guide consumers based in your country to his website.
  • The website has a general, neutral domain name, such as ‘.com’ or ‘.eu’. Or the trader uses another top level domain name different from the one for his own country, e.g. '.be'.
  • The trader refers to his international customers on his website, e.g. using quotes or reviews/testimonials from purchasers in different European countries.

The following elements alone are insufficient to prove that the trader focuses on Belgium:

  • accessibility of the website in this country
  • provision of an e-mail or geographic address
  • the use of a language and currency, which is used routinely in the trader’s home country.