The French Republic became signatory to the Convention of 15 November 1965 on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters, also called the Hague Service Convention, on January 12, 1967, and its provisions entered into force on September 1, 1972.

US attorneys seeking service in France would be wise to familiarize themselves with the mandatory character of the Hague Service Convention as set forth in Volkswagenwerk A.G. v. Schlunk (486 U.S. 694 (1988)).

Canadian attorneys should consult provincial precedent — Canadian courts take a more nuanced view of the Convention, but effectively reach the same conclusion: its limitations must be observed. Regardless of forum court requirements, the service rules of the receiving country must be observed, or enforcement of a judgment may become impossible.

About Serving Process in France

Service of process in France is quite straightforward. The French Central Authority is functional, but not necessarily the most efficient avenue. Generally speaking, direct service via a huissier de justice (court bailiff) is preferable. Not only is this method much quicker than service via the Central Authority, but it is nearly as cost effective and equally recognizable in US causes of action.

Huissiers each cover a specific jurisdictional area, so great care must be taken in selecting the proper bailiff. As with any type of bureaucrat, some are highly motivated while others are not. Our relationships within the huissiers’ network allows us to select the most capable officers for assistance.

Translation requirements

France requires an official translation into French of all documents to be formally served (that is, served by compulsion) pursuant to Article 5.1 or Article 10(b). Translation is not mandatory for service under Article 5.2 (voluntary service) or Article 10(a) (mail service); however, note that voluntary service is rarely successful and mail service is not recommended.

Even beyond France’s legal requirements, two issues make translation necessary in all but the rarest of cases: (1) Recipients have the right under French rules of civil procedure and under EU law to refuse any service not presented with a French translation (regardless of their understanding of the original language); and (2) the language of the documents must reasonably be understood by the defendant in order to fulfill US Due Process requirements (in particular, for documents served upon a recipient who speaks neither English nor French, translation into a third language may be necessary).

US practitioners should explore this issue with our legal staff.

Service Through Alternative Channels

Article 10(a):

France does not object to service by postal channel.

Caveat: Mail service pursuant to the Hague Service Convention is fraught with issues, including the need to have it executed in accordance with the forum court’s local rules, and where service abroad is proper when the destination country has not affirmatively stated that it is not opposed to mail service

Article 10(b):

France likewise does not object to service by judicial officer. The judicial officer is the bailiff (huissier de justice) of the court of first instance in whose jurisdiction the defendant is domiciled.

Caveat: “Judicial officer,” “official,” or “competent person” are terms defined under the laws of the destination state, not under the laws of the requesting state. In France, private process service is unknown, and only huissiers are empowered to serve process pursuant to Article 10. French attorneys, detectives, and private individuals are not so empowered, so service effected by such persons is improper. Article 10(c) service is thus inoperative, despite the lack of France’s objection thereto.

Note that direct service through a huissier should not taint later enforcement of a US judgment in France, although such enforcement is never guaranteed.

French Overseas Departments and Territories (DOM/TOM)

In the absence of a declaration to the contrary, France has asserted that the Hague Service Convention applies to the entire territory of the French Republic. Consequently, in addition to Metropolitan France and its Overseas Departments (French Guyana, Guadeloupe, Reunion and Martinique), France has extended the Hague Service Convention to all other French overseas territories.

LLS can assist you with service and can help you understand and meet the requirements for service of process in France and more than 90 other countries around the world. Please call 800-755-5775 to speak with one of our staff attorneys.