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What is the Hague Service Convention?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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The Hague Service Convention is an international agreement dating to 1965 that streamlines the mechanism for international service of process, where people need to serve legal documents on individuals and entities in other countries. Signatories to this convention agree to abide by the terms, designating a central authority to accept service of process from other nations and make sure the legal documents reach the recipient. In countries that have not signed the convention, people must go through diplomatic channels in order to successfully serve legal documents.

Prior to the Hague Service Convention, it was sometimes difficult to serve legal documents internationally. This resulted in situations like lawsuits moving forward without the awareness of the defendant, sluggish legal actions, and frustration on the part of the legal community. To serve documents, it was necessary to use consular services to get documents to recipients, and this could take an extended period of time.

Under the Hague Service Convention, when it is necessary to serve documents on a person from or in another country, the documents are sent to a central authority in the country of interest. The authority reviews them to make sure they are accurate and complete, and then delivers them to the recipient, if possible. If it is not possible to make contact, this will be noted. The central authority sends the outcome of the service attempt, such as acknowledgment and acceptance of the papers, to the entity requesting legal service.

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Many nations bar members of the diplomatic corps from providing service of process, as this could potentially create tensions and conflicts. People must go through the Hague Service Convention or appropriate diplomatic channels if they need to serve legal documents. Agencies like the United States Marshals can help determine whether a nation abides by the convention. If it does not, the agency can provide assistance with serving the documents correctly.

Not all legal documents can be served under the Hague Service Convention. Individual nations may restrict certain kinds of notices if they violate their own legal precepts. Service is also not the same as extradition, which requires different proceedings. A person or entity can receive a notice to appear in court and disregard it, requiring separate extradition proceedings to compel the person to appear in court. The host nation may refuse to honor the extradition request, for example when nations without the death penalty will not extradite people accused of death penalty crimes.

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