Over a two-year period in the early 2000s, a Belgian dentist sought to advertise his services. He placed a sign consisting of three faces, his name, web address and telephone number, created a website, and placed some ads in the local newspaper.
A trade group for dentists complained, resulting in criminal charges against the man since any sort of advertising of dental services is absolutely forbidden by Belgian law. In defending himself against the charges, the dentist said the Belgian law violates the EU constitutional guarantees of right to provide services as well as EU laws on electronic commerce.
The court hearing the dentist’s case asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in. Not surprisingly, the Luxembourg-based high court ruled Thursday that Belgium’s wholesale ban on the advertising of dental services goes way too far.
While the court said trade groups can certainly have rules about content and form for ads, an outright ban on ads for any service is unconstitutional.
The court did acknowledge, however, the good intent behind the law – to protect the dignity of the profession and to keep false or aggressive advertising out of dentistry. But the court said there are less restrictive ways to protect the industry than a sweeping ban on advertisting.
It’s up to the Belgian court to decide the dentist’s case, within the parameters of the EU high court’s binding opinion.