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Service by Post Under the Hague Service Convention: Who Has the Last Word?

San Marino, the independent State surrounded by Italy, is home to about 5,000 undertakings. Unsurprisingly, given the size of the country (61 km2) and its population (33,344), a significant part of the business carried out in the small Republic is related to Italy. In fact, it is not infrequent for Italian courts to be seised of disputes opposing businesses based in Italy and San Marino, respectively.

Service of Judicial Documents Between Italy and San Marino

Where this occurs, the issue arises, among others, of the (cross-border) service of the document instituting the proceedings.

San Marino is a party to the 1965 Hague Service Convention, since 2002. Italy, too, is a party to that Convention.

However, the application of the Convention between the two countries is proving problematic, at least in Italy.

The difficulties revolve around the declaration issued by San Marino under Article 21(2)(a) of the Convention, whereby San Marino made known its opposition to service by postal channels. In fact, Article 10(a) stipulates that the Convention ‘shall not interfere with … the freedom to send judicial documents, by postal channels, directly to persons abroad’, provided, however, that ‘the State of destination does not object’.

In practice, the above declaration implies that service on a Sammarinese defendant for the purposes of proceedings in Italy may not occur otherwise than in accordance with Article 3 to 6 of the Convention, i.e. by a request conforming to the model annexed to the Convention itself, forwarded to the Sammarinese Central authority.

The View of the Italian Supreme Court

In a judgment of 29 January 2019 (No. 2482), the Italian Supreme Court ruled that the above declaration could (and in fact ought to) be disregarded. It actually concluded that, in the circumstances of that case, service – made by post on a Sammarinese company – was in all respects valid and effective.

The Supreme Court noted that the Government of San Marino, when acceding to the Convention, issued two separate instruments – the instrument of accession itself, and the declarations accompanying it. But while the former was drawn up in the form of a law, the latter resulted from a mere executive act. The Supreme Court characterised the latter, on account of its form, as an act incapable of affecting the operation of the convention (‘un atto inidoneo a ridurre l’ambito di applicazione alla predetta Convenzione’).

Assessment

The ruling is unpersuasive for a number of reasons.

It is not for the courts of one State to scrutinise the appropriateness of the forms employed by another State’s authorities in their international relations.

This is all the more true for declarations issued by the latter State in respect of a multilateral international convention, such as the Hague Service Convention.

In fact, it is for the depositary of the convention concerned (here, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands) to assess whether the declarations received are in such a form as to effectively serve their purpose.

It appears that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands received the Sammarinese declaration, and recorded it as such. No objections and no remarks have been raised at a diplomatic level concerning that declaration.

According to Article 77(1)(d) and (e) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the tasks of the depositary include ‘examining whether the signature or any instrument, notification or communication relating to the treaty is in due and proper form and, if need be, bringing the matter to the attention of the State in question’, and ‘informing the parties and the States entitled to become parties to the treaty of acts, notifications and communications relating to the treaty’. If the declarations of a State were to be reviewed by the other Contracting States individually, this would likely frustrate the function of the depositary and undermine its practical advantages.

One would be tempted to label the Italian Supreme Court’s ruling as unfortunate, and to ignore it altogether.

But this is in fact the second such ruling by the Cassazione. The first one, given on 9 November 2011 (No. 23290), was criticised for the above reasons (including by the author of this post: ‘Sulla notifica degli atti giudiziari mediante la posta secondo la Convenzione dell’Aja del 1965’, Rivista di diritto internazionale privato e processuale (2012), 341-362). The fact is that the Court reiterated its views.

In fact, the stance staken by the Court appears to amount, now, to the official position of the Italian Supreme Court on the (not so firm) value of declarations issued in connection with the Service Convention (and, possibly, in connection with any other multilateral convention contemplating similar instruments).

The author of this post is not aware of any diplomatic protests by the Government of San Marino as regards the Italian Supreme Court’s rulings.

It is hoped that, for the sake of the proper functioning of the Hague Service Convention, the approach be reconsidered at the earliest occasion.

 

– Photo credit: Max_Ryazanov, Wikimedia Commons

2 comments on “Service by Post Under the Hague Service Convention: Who Has the Last Word?

  1. Very interesting and very disappointing at the same time. It seems that many jurisdictions have put the Hague Service Convention on the Procrustean bed, in order to achieve their goals. Austria is the latest example. Imagine the mid-term consequences, if other signatories adopt this view. And what about recognition and enforcement in San Marino (if needed)?

  2. ilaria pretelli

    Very interesting indeed and definitely disappointing that the Italian Supreme Court indulges in the utmost unfortunate justifications of the reasons to challenge the legitimacy of San Marino’s reservation to The Hague Service Convention.
    More to the point, the Supreme Court should have insisted – instead of simply asserting – the suitability of the act to achieve the aim (idoneità dell’atto al raggiungimento dello scopo) i.e. on the principle that effective knowledge of the document validly rectifies the nullity and voidness of service.
    The decision finds that the defendant was fully aware of the proceedings and deliberately decided not to defend themselves, probably relying on the nullity of the service and, maybe, on the future impossibility to enforce the decision in the Republic of San Marino. A behavior that seems, itself, to confirm the capacity of such a party to manipulate the rules at their own procedural advantage.

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