Old High Court and Supreme Court, Wellington. Pear285, via Wikimedia Commons.

Just off Australia’s east coast lies a gorgeous chain of islands known today in large measure for its huge population of Elves, Orcs, and Dwarves (and one very grumpy little fellow).  Before New Zealander Peter Jackson filmed his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, New Zealand was famous primarily for (1) the Māori Haka,* especially performed by its powerhouse All Blacks national rugby union team, and (2) sheep.  LOTS of sheep.  Oh, and then there was this guy.

New Zealand is not party to the Hague Service Convention (HSC), although it has acceded to the Hague Adoption, Apostille, and Child Abduction Conventions.  Notwithstanding its absence from the HSC, serving documents in New Zealand is relatively straightforward, owing to its status as a former British colony and current member of the Commonwealth of Nations.  It maintains a healthy common law system, so it should not be unfamiliar to American or Canadian** lawyers.

Service of U.S. (and most likely, Canadian) process can be effected (1) by mail, if permissible under forum court rules, (2) by Letter Rogatory, or (3) via private process server.  In all cases, enforcement of a judgment must be kept in mind– and it is in that light that I recommend Door #3 for just about every case that come across my desk (yes, I’ll be happy to handle things for you).  Addressing each in turn:

  1. Mail:  Most U.S. courts, where service is allowable by mail to begin with, allow mail service on foreign defendants only where it is not prohibited by the rules of the foreign jurisdiction.  New Zealand’s High Court Rules do not specifically prohibit mail service, but they also don’t specify how mail service should be effected unless a P.O. Box is involved.  Frankly, I’m still not a big fan of service by mail– it’s a bad idea when there are other practical methods available.
  2. Letter Rogatory:  an official request from the forum court for judicial assistance from a New Zealand court.  Costly and time consuming, this instrument really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (see here for elaboration on what it is).  For starters, budget a $2,275 fee to the Department of State just to convey the thing.  Then anticipate several months of waiting before a response comes back through diplomatic channels.  A Letter Rogatory simply isn’t necessary to ensure that service is effected according to New Zealand law.
  3. Private process server:  Not incredibly costly, and certainly on a more solid factual footing than mail.  A New Zealand process server can ensure that local rules are followed, thus ensuring that the manner of service will not give a court cause to reject an enforcement action later.  Just make sure that the proof of service demonstrates compliance with both bodies of law (High Court Rules, Part 6— if you’re curious– and forum court rules).

Some non-Hague jurisdictions present significant problems with service.  New Zealand is definitely not one of them— indeed, it is among the simplest places to serve, either within or outside the Hague community.


* See my earlier post on the value of Choice of Language clauses.

** Commonwealth procedures may govern the manner in which Canadian process should be served in New Zealand.  The author is not admitted to practice in any non-U.S. jurisdiction, so although the information presented here may be accurate, it should not be presumed to be exclusively applicable in Canadian causes of action.


You really didn’t think I’d let this post end without a picture of a Hobbit Hole, did you?

Tom Hall, via Wiki.