The European Court of Justice ruled on Dec. 2 that the sale of contact lenses over the internet cannot be prohibited in the European Union, but nonetheless acknowledged the need for some kind of regulations to protect the consumer.

The case, which we have already reported on last July, concerns a decision by the Hungarian government to prevent a foreign retailer of contact lenses, Ker-Optika, from selling them over the internet in the country. The attorney general of the European court, Paolo Mengozzi, has said at the time that such a ban may hinder the free movement of products between one European country and another.

The court's final judgment recognized the claim for consumer protection put forth by Euromcontact, the European federation of national associations and international manufacturers of contact lenses and associated products. The court said that contact lenses should be fitted by a qualified professional, that customers have the right to be informed on an ongoing basis, and that individual countries have the right to make their own regulations in order to protect customers, as long as they are not excessive and don't hinder companies' abilities to enter the market from another European country.

Euromcontact said it was content with the ruling, since it allowed countries to set their own national rules to protect customers. However, the group would have liked the court to note the importance of yearly eye exams to monitor changes in the eye, noting that suppliers may sometimes have to advise customers to go back to an eye care professional to get their lenses refitted. The court also didn't prohibit customers or eye care professionals from substituting the original lenses with potentially ill-fitting ones, as Euromcontact wanted. Member states, however, can address these issues in their legislation.