Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 (more commonly known as “Brussels I Regulation”) was introduced to provide certainty and predictability on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters. It came into force in 2002, replacing the Brussels Convention which had preceded it. The Brussels I Regulation provides a set of rules that apply to most European Union member states and which aim to ensure that no matter where court proceedings are first instituted, the application of these rules will always point to the state that is to have exclusive jurisdiction over the dispute.
Article 23 of the Brussels I Regulation sets out rules relating to prorogation of jurisdiction. These rules provide that parties to a contract may agree that a particular court of a Member State is to have jurisdiction in settling any disputes that have arisen or may arise in connection with the parties’ contract. This means that parties to an international contract, concluded over the Internet, may choose a particular Member State to have jurisdiction over their legal relationship should either party later wish to resort to litigation.
In determining whether the jurisdiction clause, viewed separately from the contract as a whole, is valid and enforceable, the High Court looks to the provisions of Article 23 of Brussels I Regulation providing for prorogation of jurisdiction. Of most relevance is Article 23(1)(c) which provides that an agreement conferring jurisdiction shall be valid if it is “in international trade or commerce, in a form which accords with a usage of which the parties are or ought to have been aware and which in such trade or commerce is widely known to, and regularly observed by, parties to contracts of the type involved in the particular trade or commerce concerned”. The Court relies on the European Court of Justice case of Mainschiffahrts-Genossenschaft eG (MSG) v. Les Gravieres Rhénanes SARL which provided that Article 23(1)(c) encompasses three hurdles that must be overcome in order for the choice of forum clause to be valid and binding.
By enforcing the terms and conditions contained in a click wrap or browse wrap agreement, the Irish High Court has allowed the Brussels I Regulation to be construed and understood in a modern light, where a large amount of our daily commerce is conducted through novel methods of communication. Forum selection clauses contained in click wrap and browse wrap agreements deserve exactly the same protection and level of enforcement as any other clauses that would be included in a written contract. Justice Punnett in the Canadian Supreme Court of British Columbia noted that “The evolution of the Internet as an ‘open’ medium with its ability to hyperlink, being key to its success, does not mean that it must function free of traditional contract law. It is simply the manner of contracting that has changed, not the law of contract.” The form that a jurisdiction selection clause takes is unimportant, as long as the same core components stipulated in Article 23(1) are met. Companies conducting much of their business online, with parties all over the world, and possibly entering hundreds of contracts a day, require certainty. That is why such clauses are entered into contracts, and that is why the Brussels I Regulation gives these clauses protection, regardless of the country in which proceedings are first instituted.
Ryanair’s intellectual property, including the mass amounts of data they create and store, can be accessed from anywhere in the world. However, the difficulty that Ryanair would have in protecting that information in jurisdictions with differing and often conflicting laws could be potentially harmful to the growth and encouragement of international trade and commerce. A jurisdiction selection clause that meets the requirements set down in Article 23(1) should be legally valid regardless of the mode of its acceptance or the form in which it was presented. What this High Court decision tells us is that courts are going to be increasingly innovative in their application of the Brussels I Regulation, regardless of whether or not the method used to create such an agreement was in existence at the time the Regulation or the Convention was implemented. A party that engages in international online commerce cannot always expect the protection of their own law, just because they do not physically leave their own jurisdiction. This Irish High Court case illustrates how the Brussels I Regulation is just as effective in ensuring party autonomy and uniformity of result in 2013, as it was when the Convention first came into force.
The author is a Class of 2014 LL.M. student in the International Business Regulation, Litigation and Arbitration program at the New York University School of Law. He obtained his Bachelor in Civil Law degree at University College Dublin, Ireland in 2012, after which he completed the Barrister-at-Law Degree at the Honorable Society of King’s Inns and was called to the Irish Bar in 2013.
 Council Regulation 44/2001 O.J. (L 12).
 Ryanair Limited v. On the Beach Limited,  I.E.H.C. 124.
 Case C-269/95, Benincasa v. Dentalkit Slr,  E.C.R. I-3790.
 Case C-105/95, Mainschiffahrts-Genossenschaft eG v. Les Gravieres Rhenanes SARL,  E.C.R. I-932.
 Id. at para. 19.
 Century 21 Canada v. Rogers Communications,  B.C.S.C. 1196 at para. 114.