World poll puts Internet jurisdiction under scrutiny

  • 7 August 2003

Is the Internet being stifled as a business medium by the constant tug-of-war over which country's law applies when disputes arise?

As legislators struggle to reconcile national laws to a universal medium, the International Chamber of Commerce and the American Bar Association are polling hundreds of companies throughout the world to get their assessment.

The survey was launched at the ABA annual meeting here this week. It was introduced by the project’s co-chairmen, Michael Hancock, a partner at the Paris-based law firm Salans, and Michael Geist, professor at the University of Ottawa.

The survey will reach out to businesses in at least 25 countries. It will include financial institutions, retailers and manufacturers, as well as Internet software and hardware companies. Results will be published before the end of the year.

Michael Hancock, who is co-chairman of the ICC task force on jurisdiction and applicable law, said: “We expect the survey to be useful to governments as they draw up international treaties governing the Internet. It will help them to make sure that the Internet’s enormous business potential is preserved.”

The survey will also provide companies with a benchmark for gauging the risk of doing business online. It also focuses on Internet risk, approaches to online contracting and that use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

“This is the largest and most comprehensive global survey ever conducted on Internet jurisdiction issues,” said Jonas Astrup, ICC policy manager. Key questions were directed at establishing whether companies view conducting business online as harder or easier from a legal perspective – and whether matters would get better or worse by the end of 1995.

The survey will be conducted up to the end of September. First data are expected in late October or early November, timed to coincide with progress on the draft Hague convention on jurisdiction and enforcement of foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters.

In a similar survey earlier this year, ICC established that jurisdiction issues are having an effect on business decisions. An unexpectedly high proportion of companies said they were dissuaded from going ahead with international contracts because of doubts about which national courts would resolve any dispute.