On 29 November 2019, the Council of the European Union adopted a general approach regarding the recast of Regulation 1393/2007 on the service of judicial and extrajudicial documents abroad. On 7 February a new Council document was published, featuring the Annexes of the future Recast Regulation.
The new Regulation, which will likely be adopted in the Summer or Autumn of 2020, is not expected to bring about major changes to the current legal landscape.
A comparison is provided below between some key features of the Commission’s proposal of 31 May 2018, on the one hand, and the corresponding solutions envisaged in the compromise text elaborated by the Council, on the other.
1. The Commission proposed to clarify by an additional paragraph in Article 1 that the Regulation does not apply “to service of a document on the party’s authorised representative in the Member State where the proceedings are taking place regardless of the place of residence of that party”, thereby moving to the body of the Regulation what was already stated in Recital 8 of the 2007 Regulation. Concurrently, the Commission envisaged to introduce a new provision – Article 7a – requiring the recipient to appoint a representative for the purpose of service in the forum State for all documents following the one introducing proceedings. The Council took the view that both innovations should be dropped.
2. The Commission Proposal aimed to enhance electronic communication between Transmitting and Receiving Authorities, suggesting the establishment of national IT systems (Article 3a). This provision was partially amended, following the concerns of national delegations with respect to the sustainability of a decentralized mechanism.
3. The Proposal introduced a new provision, aiming at a more active assistance of Member States authorities towards a smoother and more efficient search of the whereabouts of the defendant (Article 3c). The provision underwent minor amendments by the Council.
4. The Proposal added two paragraphs to Article 8. One was meant to extend the delay by which the recipient may refuse service, while the other intended to specify the duty of the court of the forum to examine whether the refusal was founded. The Council’s compromise text retained the former suggestion, while rejecting the latter.
5. The Proposal introduced two additional paragraphs in Article 14 on service by post, suggesting the use of a specific acknowledgment of receipt, and deeming postal service as validly effected when served to adult persons living in the same house with the recipient. The Council rejected the proposed amendments. With reference to Article 14, two additional points should be stressed: first, the wording of the provision has changed in a way that leads to the conclusion that postal service does not have to pass through transmitting authorities / court channels; second, postal service may be resorted to not only for persons domiciled, but also for those who are merely present in the country of destination.
6. The Commission Proposal attempted to pose an obligation to all Member States to provide information on professions or competent persons permitted to effect direct service. The Council deleted this part of the proposal almost in its entirety. The efforts of the Commission towards extending direct service in all Member States met with the adamant refusal of the Council.
7. The Proposal introduced a provision on electronic service (Article 15a). The Council adopted in principle the proposal as Article 14a, slightly modifying its wording. It also stated the obligation of Member States to specify the conditions under which electronic service will be accepted.
8. The Commission proposed two innovations on Article 19, regarding the situation where the defendant fails to enter an appearance: an additional tool of communication for the purposes of Article 19(2), i.e. sending an e-mail or a message to an address or an account known to the court seised, and a streamlined approach to the delay within which an application for relief must be filed with the court (2 years following the date of the judgment). Both proposals were discarded by the Council.
As a general conclusion, it may be stated that the innovative steps proposed by the Commission were met with reservation both by the European Parliament and the Council. What hopefully will improve is the cooperation between Member States authorities in the preliminary field of transmission. This will of course depend on the willingness and preparedness of Member States.
Regarding actual service of process, the situation remains the same. A divide among Member States will continue to exist in regards to direct service; e-service will heavily depend on the conditions set out by Member States; a unified approach regarding the term within which an application for relief was rejected; finally, the obligation of the claimant to serve everything abroad will continue to exist, save for the exceptions provided for by the Regulation (legal representative and unknown residence), confirmed by the CJEU in the Alder case.