Send your request in duplicate to the Central Authority.

Read that to yourself again, but this time, do it in the accent of General Alexei Anatoly Gogol.*

Send your request in duplicate to the Central Authority.

No, this is not a command from a Soviet spy chief. It’s just what we need to do when submitting a Request for service pursuant to Article 5 of the Hague Service Convention, instruction taken quite literally from Article 3. The term Central Authority merely refers to the agency (or agencies) designated by member countries to receive those requests. It shouldn’t conjure images of some nefarious Cold War-era black ops outfit behind the Iron Curtain, like the Stasi or KGB. In just about all countries, the designated Central Authority is a regular government agency, usually a court or counterpart to the U.S. Departments of State or Justice.

That’s how some of my clients perceive Hague Central Authorities– secretive, combative, and ready to ruin your day just because they don’t particularly like us. But that view is far from accurate.

  • Here in the United States, it actually is the Department of Justice (technically, DoJ’s Office of International Judicial Assistance, but outsourced to a private contractor in Seattle)
  • In England & Wales, the Foreign Process Section of the Royal Courts of Justice
  • Netherlands… the District Public Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague
  • Mexico… Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Sweden… Länsstyrelsen (County Administrative Board) of Stockholm
  • Counterintuitively, the Central Authority function is de-centralized in Canada, Switzerland, and Germany– they all have multiple designated authorities for each province, canton, and state (“Land“), respectively.

For the most part, Central Authorities around the world get the job done fairly effectively– the biggest variations between them arising in two areas: timeliness and responsiveness. Some are quick (the Swiss Canton of Ticino once got a proof back to me in three weeks!), others incredibly slow (18-24 months from submission to receipt of proof), and others somewhere in between. Some have highly communicative staff who bend over backwards to lend a hand and guide U.S. and Canadian attorneys (I’m looking at you, England!), while you’d waste your time even picking up the phone to call some others. Responsiveness varies wildly around the globe.

You have no choice but to use the Central Authority channel in what I call 5-0” countries, where Article 5 is your Only avenue to valid service. Sometimes, the Central Authority may be your best bet despite the availability of Article 10 alternatives. In still others, going to the Central Authority makes little or no sense because Article 10 is infinitely more effective.

Which way is best? Well, not to give the classic law school answer, but it depends. Totality of the circumstances, folks. Just know that if you use a Central Authority, you’re not doing anything incorrectly.

And you won’t need 007 to bail you out.

* Hat tip to the late German actor Walter Gotell, who played General Gogol in six James Bond films– during the campy-but-always-entertaining Roger Moore era and right at the end of Timothy Dalton’s debut. Go back & watch them, just for fun.