Selling online: consumer contracts

Resolving online contract legal disputes

Once an online contract is made disagreements can arise about the terms of the contract or whether obligations have been properly performed.

This guide gives an overview of the issues that will be important. However, in the event of a legal dispute you should seek legal advice. See choose and work with a solicitor.

If there is an international element, to resolve the dispute you must determine what law applies and which country's courts have jurisdiction. There are significant exceptions in favour of consumers.

European Union (EU) jurisdiction

In the European Economic Area, parties can choose the governing law and the forum for dispute resolution - eg courts of a particular country, arbitration etc. The Rome Convention rules decide which law applies, although certain mandatory rules in a purchaser's country will always apply, for example for financial services or consumer protection.

Similarly, in the EU jurisdiction of disputes is determined by the Brussels Regulation. If the parties have not agreed jurisdiction, the basic rule is that a defendant may be sued where they live, or where the contractual obligation was performed.

Consumer protection laws

Consumers may invoke consumer protection laws either in their home jurisdiction or the supplier's jurisdiction, but almost always may only be sued in their home jurisdiction. Therefore online businesses dealing with consumers must be prepared to comply with consumer protection regulations in each market to which they sell.

Reducing uncertainty

To reduce uncertainty in the event of a dispute, e-commerce providers should specify in their terms and conditions the governing law and jurisdiction for disputes. English law is the popular choice for international trade and is often chosen by parties with no other connection to the UK.