[Author’s Note: my family & I spent three years in Belgium when I was a young boy. It was the launchpad for my career as an international lawyer, even though it took some thirty more years to develop. Quite logically, this tiny kingdom holds a very special place in my heart.]
Serving process in Belgium is subject to the strictures of the Hague Service Convention, regardless of which U.S. or Canadian venue is hearing the matter.
Some background is in order, if you’re so inclined, before we cut to the chase.
- The roadmap to the overall process—the recipe to our Secret Sauce.
- The structure of the Convention itself is discussed in this four-part series.
- And an absolutely critical note: the Hague Service Convention does not pertain to subpoenas. Repeat after me—you can’t just SERVE a subpoena abroad. You have to file a Hague Evidence Request. Dramatically different from serving a summons or notice.
Now, for the chase scene. Here’s how it’s done in Belgium:
Article 5 Service
- Translate the documents. Belgium’s declaration to Article 5(3) allows the Central Authority to accept untranslated documents. Translate them anyway. Although the defendant may speak flawless English, the same declaration allows a defendant to request a translation, causing significant delay in processing. But that isn’t the end of the analysis—depending on the defendant’s location, different languages are necessary.*
- Fill out a USM-94. Be very careful about ensuring that it is complete and concise, and make sure that it is signed by a court official or an attorney. If it is not, make sure that the person signing is commissioned by the court.
- Send to the Central Authority, who will then instruct a huissier de justice (in the francophone south) or a gerechtsdeurwaarder (in the Flemish/Dutch-speaking north) to serve.
- Sit tight. It may take a while—perhaps 4 months from submission to return of proof, depending on the defendant’s locality.
Article 10 alternative methods
- Mail service is available, depending on where you are, but it’s a bad idea anyway. If you do select this route, pay particular attention to the venue court’s rules about how mail service is initiated—in federal cases, adhere strictly to FRCP 4(f)(2)(C)(ii).
- Belgium also allows direct access to a huissier de justice,** the judicial officer who serves process in local actions and Article 5 requests. This method avoids having to wait for processing by the Central Authority, often cutting wait time by a couple of months, but finding a huissier without speaking French can be a challenge.
Pretty straightforward options in this tiny kingdom (which is my favorite country on the continent, and has been since I was a young kid). Belgium’s declarations and Central Authority information—as well as those of all the other countries in the treaty—can be found here.
Bonus practice tip… if you’re defense counsel, always question the validity of service effected on your overseas client. The plaintiff may not have done it correctly.
* In the north, translate into Dutch or, even more preferable, Flemish (a Dutch dialect). In the south—including the city of Brussels—translate into French. And in the extreme east, a few communities still use German as the local language. Google the name of the locality to find out which language is preferred. A handy, cost-saving practice tip: if a Belgian party has co-defendants in France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, or the Netherlands, you might be able to double-dip your translations.
** The bailiff, for lack of a better term, is a specialized professional in the civil law system. A qualified attorney, whose practice is limited to procedural matters on behalf of the court, the bailiff not only serves process, but is also tasked with executing judgments. A rough analog in common law systems: really a combination hybrid of our bailiffs and sheriffs, but with the same level of training as a practicing attorney. In French-speaking jurisdictions, s/he is called a huissier de justice. In Dutch-speaking jurisdictions, a gerechtsdeurwaarder, and in German-speaking areas, a deurwaarder. (Although, to be sure, this won’t help much in Germany, Switzerland, or Austria, as those countries all prohibit access to judicial officers for service requests).