The Kingdom of Belgium 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 21, 1966. The Convention’s provisions entered into force in Belgium on January 18, 1971.
US attorneys seeking service in Belgium would be wise to familiarize themselves with the mandatory character of the 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.
The Belgian Central Authority is often significantly backlogged, due in part to the high concentration of foreigners living in the capital, Brussels. (Brussels also serves as the legislative and administrative capital of the European Union.)
Fortunately, Belgium’s declarations to the Hague Service Convention mean that multiple methods of service are available, but their effectiveness and availability to foreign litigants vary. Our attorneys can guide you in selecting the most effective method to pursue.
Belgians learn multiple languages from a very early age. Officially bilingual, the nation is split into two linguistic and cultural regions: Flemish, a variant of Dutch, in the north (Flanders); and French in the south (Wallonia). With close proximity to the United Kingdom and Germany, English and German are also widely spoken.
Still, documents served from abroad must be accompanied by a translation into the local language of the “commune” in which the defendant resides. This benefits the defendant and also enables the Belgian bailiff to understand what he or she is serving.
In all cases, however, documents must reasonably be understood by the defendant in order to fulfill US Due Process requirements. In particular, documents served upon a recipient who speaks neither English, Flemish nor French may require translation into an additional language. US practitioners should explore this issue at length with our legal staff.
The Central Authority for Belgium is:
Federal Public Department of Justice
Department of international cooperation in civil matters
Boulevard de Waterloo, 115
Belgium permits service not only via the Central Authority, but also by judicial officer and by mail. Note that when serving pursuant to the latter two options, certain types of substituted service and mailbox service may be routinely effected under foreign law, but have adverse Due Process implications in US jurisdictions.
Though often time-consuming, process served via the Central Authority channel is generally deemed to have been proper in the foreign jurisdiction, and US courts should not look behind the foreign Central Authority’s proof of service. Northrup King v. Compania Productora Semillas, 51 F. 3d 1383, 1390 (8th Cir. 1995).
Our legal staff can assist you in discerning the best of Belgium’s myriad of service options.
Belgium has declared that it has no objection to direct service by postal channel. However, mail service pursuant to the Hague Service Convention is fraught with problems — even when the destination state has not objected to such service. American jurisdictions are split regarding propriety of mail service under the Convention. Plaintiffs are advised to proceed with caution when employing this channel — and LLS recommends against using it.
In all Federal cases, service via the postal channel should include a signed receipt mechanism (required under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4).
Belgium expresses no opposition to direct service by a judicial officer, official or other competent person. Often, service through a local bailiff, or “hussier de justice,” is the most expeditious method — and the method most frequently used by the Central Authority itself.
Likewise, Belgium does not object to direct service by “interested persons,” but use of this method does not ensure enforceability after a judgment is secured.
LLS can assist you with service and can help you understand and meet the requirements for service of process in Belgium. Please call 1-800-755-5775 for more information.
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