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Court letters from other EU member states – to accept or not to accept, and if yes, how and when to do it?


by Kamil Twardowski

​16 March 2023

Seeing the need to improve and expedite the transmission of judicial and extrajudicial documents in civil or commercial matters [1], the EU Member States were trying to develop a legal instrument for the efficient service of judicial correspondence already at the end of the 20th century. As of now, the third regulation [2] governing the service procedure has been in force since 1 July 2022. 

What does this procedure look like in practice? What to do if you receive international court mail and what to pay attention to for the service to be not only effective but above all – safe? 

A step-by-step procedure for service

According to the current Regulation [2], the procedure for service is handled by the central bodies and the transmitting and receiving agencies designated by the EU Member States to achieve the objectives of the Regulation. The exception is Denmark, where although the procedure for service is the same, it is not governed by the Regulation, but by a separate agreement between the European Community and Denmark. 

The tasks of the central body (in Poland, it is the Ministry of Justice) include informing the courts of the competent receiving agencies, coordinating problematic service cases and, in exceptional situations, delivering correspondence to the competent receiving agency. In practice, however, the respective divisions or district court presiding judges perform the functions of transferring and receiving agencies. In Poland, documents to be served are prepared by the court adjudicating the case and are formally served by the presiding judge of the respective district court. Correspondence sent by the transmitting agency is delivered to the receiving agency, which makes the final delivery to the addressee (in larger countries, the correspondence is also sent to the district court closest to the addressee). Communication between transmitting and receiving agencies concerning the sending, receipt and acceptance of correspondence is handled through a decentralised IT system (or by other means). 

Obligatory content of mail

Correspondence that a court wishes to serve on a recipient in another EU Member State - regardless of the case - generally consists of two elements. 

The first is the forms for service, which are annexed to the Regulation. They are structured in a way ensuring that the transmitting court can complete them irrespective of the official language of the Member State. 

The second element is the correspondence itself, i.e. the specific documents to be served on the addressee. Importantly, however, they must be translated by a sworn translator at least into the official language of the Member State where the document is to be served or, in the case of multilingual States, into one of the official languages of the place where the document is to be served on the addressee. The receiving agency should serve the document within one month of receiving it. 

Other methods of service that involve some risk, but that the court of the transferring state may decide to use include: 

  • Service of documents by diplomatic agents or consular officers,
  • Service by postal services (by registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt or equivalent) 
  • Electronic service by email (upon the addressee's consent and to the indicated email address)
  • Direct service (provided that the law of the Member State permits such service).

Receipt of a judicial document from another EU Member State 

When receiving such correspondence, it is important to carefully examine its entire contents, i.e., all pages of the letter, first of all, for whether it contains all translations. Every letter - whether it is a cover letter, summons or pleading - must be served on the addressee with a sworn translation. Very often, translations are missing, e.g. a translation of the cover letter specifying the obligation and the filing deadline, or of the obligatory instructions addressed to the addressee, or of the annexes to the letters. It is best to scan the documents on site at the receiving agency. 

Why is this so important? Almost every service of court correspondence starts an official time limit for taking a certain action - most often the filing of a pleading. Failure to comply with such a deadline will - in most cases - entail negative procedural consequences for the recipient of the correspondence. 

Right to refuse to accept delivery

If the addressee is not able to check by him- or herself whether the documentation contains all translations, he or she can initially accept the delivery and, within two weeks, either verify the delivered documentation him- or herself or have the content of the delivered documentation verified by a person who speaks the language of the transmitting state or by a professional lawyer practising in the transmitting state. 

If it turns out that the documents are not translated correctly or the translation is incomplete, or the addressee does not speak the language into which the correspondence has been translated at all, then the addressee can and should exercise his or her right to refuse to accept the delivery. In such a case, he or she must make a written declaration either at the time of service or within two weeks of service. The declaration should be made using Form L in Annex I (these annexes are served along with the correspondence) or simply in writing, indicating that the addressee refuses to accept the document due to the language in which it is served. Once such a statement has been made, the receiving agency should inform the transferring agency of this fact and send the correspondence back. The transmitting court then verifies whether an additional translation should indeed be prepared (or the documentation to be served should be supplemented otherwise), or whether the addressee's refusal to accept the delivery was unjustified. 

In the first case, the court may order remedying the service and repeat the procedure by serving the addressee with a set of documents together with a translation. If, however, the court finds that service was effected correctly and that the refusal of receipt was not justified - the addressee may no longer be able to take action to protect his or her rights precisely because of the expiry of the time limit. The law provides for the option to apply for a waiver of the consequences of expiry of the time limit (e.g. where the defendant through no fault of his/her own was not able to access the document in due time to defend himself/herself, or where he/she was not able to access the contents of the judgment in due time for the purpose of filing an appeal, or where the defendant has raised pleas on the merits which do not appear to be a priori unfounded). However, this entails a great risk, not only that the court will conclude that service was nevertheless effective, but also that the possibilities for the revision of judgments or the reopening of proceedings in individual Member States will be limited. 

Therefore, if you get a court document from another Member State, you should absolutely seek professional advice. Our experts are available to provide assistance in any of the EU Member States.

Legal basis:
[1] Council Regulation (EC) No 1348/2000 of 29 May 2000 (Official Journal L 160 , 30/06/2000 P. 0037 - 0052, para. (2) of the preamble).
[2] Regulation (EU) No 2020/1784 of 25 November 2020 on the service in the Member States of judicial and extrajudicial documents in civil or commercial matters (recast) (OJ EU of 2.12.2020, L 405, pp. 40-78) - which replaced Regulation 1393/2007 of 13 November 2007 on the service in the Member States of judicial and extrajudicial documents in civil or commercial matters (service of documents) and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1348/2000 (OJ EU, 10.12.2007, L 324, pp. 79-120).


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