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Consumers were delivered a victory in the decision delivered by the Court of Justice of the European Union on April 15, Case C-511/08. They were granted deliverance from paying delivery charges upon withdrawal from distance contracts.
This case arose when a German consumer organization, Verbraucherzentrale Nordrhein-Westfalen objected to the terms of sale set by Heinrich Heine, a mail-order company. The specific condition complained of was that the consumer must always pay a flat-rate charge of EUR 4.95 for delivery. This charge would not be refunded even if the consumer chose to cancel the contract.
The consumer association brought an action in the German courts seeking an injunction forbidding the company from charging consumers the delivery cost when they exercised their right of withdrawal. It asserted that this was in contravention of the directive on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts (Directive 97/7/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 1997) because the directive entitles consumers to an unconditional right to cancel distance contracts within a cooling-off period of seven working days, without penalty. The case made it to the Bundesgerichtsof, the German Supreme Court, which referred the case to the EU Court because it had doubts as to the compatibility of the German legislation with the directive, since the German law does not grant the buyer any explicit right to reimbursement of the delivery costs.
The EU Court referred to the preamble of Directive 97/7 which seeks to introduce a minimum set of common rules regarding distance contracts. In particular, the directive affords consumers a right of withdrawal which they may exercise, within a specific time-limit, without penalty and without giving any reason. Furthermore, Article 6(2) of the directive stipulates that the only charge that may be made to the consumer because of the exercise of the right of withdrawal is the direct cost of returning the goods. The Court concluded that the purpose is not to discourage consumers from exercising their right to withdraw. Therefore the Court found that the directive precludes national legislation, like the German legislation at issue here, which allows the distance seller in a distance contract to impose the delivery cost on the withdrawing consumer. This decision will be surely welcomed by e-consumers throughout the Union.