Service of Process Abroad

Waterfront Dr, Road Town, Tortola. Kevin Stroup via Wikimedia Commons.

We ain’t building rockets here.  But we are building a ship of sorts, and a leaky hull means the cruise ship might not get you to that cabana sheltered rum drink you’ve been craving.  Serving process in the British Virgin Islands is subject to the strictures of the Hague Service Convention, regardless of which U.S. venue* is hearing the matter– in exactly the same way as service in England and Wales.  Still an overseas territory, the United Kingdom has extended the Convention’s coverage to the archipelago.  A critical note, though… that archipelago straddles an international boundary– between the United Kingdom and the United States.  On one side, the BVI, and on the other, the USVI.  Some confusion tends to result when someone calls me to “serve a defendant in the Virgin Islands” and I respond… which Virgin Islands?

If you’re serving in the United States territory, handle it no differently than you would in Puerto Rico or the District of Columbia.

But in the British islands… think Hague methods.

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 another absolutely critical note: the Hague Service Convention does not confer coercive effect on subpoenas.  Theoretically, you can serve it, but it won’t do much good.

And the nuts & bolts aspect of our show, in case you need to serve a resort or one of the corporations that have set up a figurative (ie: legal) home in the BVI:

Article 5 Service

  • Translate the documents. But the UK’s declaration to Article 5(3) requires that documents be in English, so… game over, right?  Pack up and go home?  Not so fast, counsel… make sure your individual defendant speaks English, because his U.S. Due Process rights follow him, in a sense.  Anybody sued in a U.S. court must be served in a language they understand, so if they don’t speak English, translation is still 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.
  • Sit tight. It may take a while—likely several months from submission to return of proof.

Article 10 alternative methods

  • Mail service is available, but it’s a bad idea.
  • Service via private agent (process server) is available to U.S. litigants under Article 10(c). This is absolutely criticalmake sure to have the process server instructed by a solicitor, or the attempt to serve is ineffective, as it violates the UK’s position on Article 10.

The UK’s declarations and Central Authority information 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.

* For Canadian litigators, Hague channels are certainly available, but there may be a Commonwealth mechanism that makes the procedure even simpler.

Yeah, cruise ships dock there. A lot. [Prince George Wharf, Nassau Harbor. TampAGS, for AGS Media, via Wikimedia Commons.]
We ain’t building rockets here.  But we are building a ship of sorts, and a leaky hull means the cruise ship might not get you to that cabana sheltered rum drink you’ve been craving.  Serving process in the Bahamas is subject to the strictures of the Hague Service Convention, regardless of which venue is hearing the matter.  No longer an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, the Bahamas adopted an independent constitution in 1968,* and fully implemented the Service Convention thirty years later.  Not even 200 miles off south Florida, the islands get a whole bunch of tourists– and commerce– from the U.S. & Canada, and lawsuits are a natural result.

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 confer coercive effect on subpoenas.  Repeat after me—you can’t just SERVE a subpoena abroadYou have to send a Letter Rogatory (the Evidence Convention isn’t in effect in the Bahamas).  Dramatically different from serving a summons or notice.

Now for the nuts & bolts aspect of our show:

Article 5

  • Translation: The Bahamas make no declarations to Article 5(3) of the Hague Service Convention. As a former British Colony, English is the operating language, so game over, right?  Pack up and go home?  Not so fast, counsel… make sure your individual defendant speaks English, because his U.S. Due Process rights follow him, in a sense.  Anybody sued in a U.S. court must be served in a language they understand, so if they don’t speak English, translation is still 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, along with the requisite fee.
  • Sit tight. It may take a while—likely three or four months from submission to return of proof.

Article 10

  • The Bahamas do not object to service via Article 10 methods.
  • Mail service is available, but it’s a bad idea anyway.
  • Service via private agent (process server) is available to U.S. litigants under Article 10(b)/10(c).

Central Authority information for the Bahamas and for the other countries in the treaty—can be found here.  Pretty straightforward stuff down there; not a lot of fanfare, if you’re careful and complete the right paperwork.

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.

* Interestingly, the UK didn’t see it that way until five years on, with the “grant” of full independence in 1973, although Queen Elizabeth remains the islands’ sovereign.  Even more interestingly, the Queen’s uncle– who had abdicated, making her father king– was governor of the islands from 1940-45.  Not a bad gig, if you ask me.

Medallion – Signing of The Last WIll and Testament of The Springfield Presbytery @ Cane Ridge Meeting House, Paris, Kentucky. Chris Light, via Wikimedia Commons.

It happens all the time.

I’ll give a lecture or mention what I do at a bar association event, and the colleague I just met will express appreciation for what I do, tell me it’s a really neat niche, and then try to convince himself that our practice areas don’t overlap.  I’m here to tell you that, yes, they do.  But it’s tough to convince highly experienced professionals that something outside their wheelhouse might be a challenge in the not-too-distant future.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Sorry, Aaron.  I’m an estate planning lawyer. I’ll never need to serve anybody in a foreign country.  But thanks for doing that CLE.  You’re a funny guy.  (Funny how?  I’m a clown?  I amuse you?)  No, I mean I really like how you got that picture of Boromir into your slide deck!

This is Boromir, from the Fellowship of the Ring. It is not Ned Stark.

Wait a sec, there, pal.  It’s likely that you’ll eventually have to serve abroad someday.  Ever represent a client who wants to contest the Last Will and Testament of an estranged relative?  (Yes.)  How about if that will that leaves the decedent’s prize collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia to his Cousin Seamus in Dublin?  Think someone might have to serve ol’ Seamus?  (Hmmmm.)  Bear with me here…

It doesn’t matter what court is handling the case– estate litigation is still litigation.  And if you need to hale into court an individual heir (or devisee or… whatever the state-specific term is for cousin Seamus) who is outside the United States, you’re going to have to know how to do it the right way.

If you have any sort of adverse party abroad– or even someone whose interest align with your client’s, but who must be served certain notice or pleadings– strict rules must be observed.

Estate litigation is still litigation.

So how do you do that?

It bears repeating.  The Hague Service Convention controls how all this gets done wherever it applies.  It’s a treaty, to which the United States is a party, and which entered into force right about the time my mom graduated from high school.  Thanks to the Supremacy Clause, its strictures trump lesser laws.  A gentle reminder:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.  (Art. VI-2)

(Emphasis mine.)

Serving in Ireland is pretty straightforward.  We prep the documents for service under Article 10(b), send them to my Irish solicitor, and he takes it from there.

The Ha’Penny Bridge, across the River Liffey in Dublin. Odds are, Cousin Seamus walked across this to see Elvis back in the day.
Ministry of the Interior, Havana. Evaronalotti, via Wikimedia Commons.

With all the fanfare this month over the government shutdown and the Kansas City Chiefs’ coin-toss defeat in the AFC Championship, a little-noticed story out of the Trump Administration could prompt a tsunami of litigation (yeah, I’ve wanted to use that expression for a while now) against offshore companies doing business with Cuba.  I withhold comment here about the broader ramifications of such suits,* but an important element of the puzzle lies squarely within my wheelhouse, and it bears discussion.

Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (HBA) allows U.S. litigants whose Cuban property was expropriated following the 1959 Revolution– for the most part native Cubans who’ve emigrated north– to sue entities who have profited from that expropriated property.  An example: let’s say “Autohersteller GmbH“, a fictional German carmaker, wants to develop a parts plant outside Havana, and the Cuban state grants a 99-year lease to the land on which they build it.  Prior to 1959, the plot of land was owned by a group of citizens loyal to President Fulgencio Batista; after his overthrow, the Castro government seized the land and title thereto.

Sixty years later, those citizens and their kids now live in Fort Lauderdale, and if the Trump Administration reverses a quarter-century of waivers, they’ll be marching into the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida and filing suit.  Not against the Cuban government– there’s no realistic mechanism for that.**

Instead, they’ll be suing Autohersteller GmbH for damages under Helms-Burton.  Again, set aside any discussion of the practical impacts of the statute; but recognize that the only proper way to serve that company in Germany is by filing a Hague Service Request.  That HBA establishes a cause of action (and, necessarily, jurisdiction) but does not override the procedural rules applicable to serving overseas defendants.  It does not supersede the mandatory and exclusive nature of the Hague Service Convention.  And it does not dispense with the defendants’ due process right to proper notice.

Plaintiffs, do it the right way, and remove at least one obstacle to an eventual verdict.

* Just Google “Helms-Burton III” to see much debate on the issue.  It’s a doozy.

** Cuba is not party to the Hague Service Convention, and it’s highly doubtful that Cuban courts would entertain Letters Rogatory in such a case anyway.

One of the odd quirks about serving an offshore defendant is the very routine possibility that plaintiff’s counsel could be contacted by the defense before a foreign authority notifies anyone that service has even been effected.   A hypo, to illustrate…

Dieter from Düsseldorf signs a contract with Pete from Peoria to supply Pete’s company with machine parts.  Everybody knows that German manufacturers are incredibly efficient– while their machine parts are of outstanding quality– and Pete is thrilled to have a well-coordinated supply chain.  The parts come as scheduled for about six months, when all of a sudden, bupkiss.  Nothing.  Nichts.  Dieter doesn’t answer the phone, he ignores Pete’s frantic emails (DUDE, WHERE IN THE HELL ARE MY PARTS?!), and Pete has to furlough his entire workforce until an alternate supplier can be found.  The obvious result, given Dieter’s recalcitrance?  A lawsuit.

Pete’s lawyer, Larry, needs to serve the summons & complaint for damages on Dieter in Germany.  He hires me to assist, and we send a properly formatted Hague Request to the Central Authority for Nordrhein-Westfalen.  It arrives on the 8th of January, and the good folks at the Oberlandesgerichts Düsseldorf have service effected about a month later.  On February 14th, Pete’s lawyer gets a curious email from a colleague, indicating that she represents Dieter and would like an extension of the deadline to answer.

Sure, Larry says.  But… hang on a second.

My phone rings, and Larry asks if I can shoot him a copy of the proof of service on Dieter.

Nope, I reply.  Haven’t gotten it yet.

Larry is justifiably perplexed, and Dieter’s lawyer thinks she’s got an advantage.  [Gee, Larry, you don’t even know your defendant’s been served?]

Well, no.  He doesn’t.  He has no way of knowing because the Central Autority hasn’t told anybody.  And this is perfectly normal, especially if the defendant is in China or Mexico or India (my trifecta of “this’ll take a while” countries).

The timeline:

  • January 8– request arrives at the Central Authority
  • February 8– service is effected
  • February 14– opposing counsel contacts Larry
  • March 11– a completed Hague Certificate lands in my mailbox
  • An hour later– Larry has a PDF of the Certificate to file with the forum court

That sequence of events happens all the time, and it has no bearing on the effective date of service or the deadline by which a defendant must answer.

It also doesn’t subject the plaintiff to dismissal if the proof takes several weeks or months to come back from the Authority.*  Rule 4(l)(3) is a nice safe harbor in this regard: “Failure to prove service does not affect the validity of service.” What seems to be a delicate situation really isn’t.  Any time a plaintiff has to rely on the caprices and inefficiencies of a foreign bureaucracy, courts have to give them latitude (thus my affection for FRCP 4 and its recognition of Hague realities).

The takeaway from all this:  relax.  Proof is coming.

* I filed a request in India in September, 2017.  The papers were served in November– a mere two months on, which is surprisingly quick in India.  But the Certificate arrived over Labor Day weekend.  That’s in September, for the uninitiated.  A full ten months elapsed before the plaintiff could prove that the defendant had been served.

J. Lyman Stone, Esq. of Memphis. (“Bruiser” to his friends– and enemies.)

A few weeks back, a personal injury lawyer in Memphis* called to ask how he could serve a defendant in Switzerland.**   I told him that the Swiss have a fairly straightforward view of the Hague Service Convention, and that there was only one effective way of getting the job done: an Article 5 request to the right Cantonal Central Authority.  No muss, no fuss, you get a proof back in a matter of two or three months.

“But how do they do it?” he asked.

Well, says I, it varies by Canton (not exactly a federal state, but not exactly a county either).  It’s usually a local public prosecutor or some other judicial officer who carries it out.  Frankly, though, it doesn’t matter, because as long as you submit a properly completed Request, the proof the Authority sends back to you is like Kevlar.  Again, no muss, no fuss.

“But do they actually serve it personally on the defendant?”

If he’s home, yeah.  If he’s not, they might try him again later, but in quite a few cases, they slap a Post-It note on his door and tell him to come down to the police station or the post office to pick up a sheaf of documents.  If he doesn’t do it within a certain time frame, they drop the docs in the mail and deem him served anyway.  The philosophy is this: when a judicial officer tells a Swiss citizen to come and get an envelope, they comply.

At that, he told me that wouldn’t fly.  Tennessee rules require personal, in-hand service, so the Swiss would have to do better than that.

Ahem, huh?

He insisted that it’s a Tennessee case, so Tennessee rules control how it’s done, and they would just have to get it done right.  Or we would just have to find another way.

I gently pushed back, reminding him that Tennessee law doesn’t have extraterritorial reach.  Not only that, Sandra Day O’Connor and colleagues said the Convention is mandatory doctrine— you can’t go around it.  There simply isn’t another way; you can’t just hire a guy in Zurich to do it for you. (Yes, you can request personal, in-hand service under Article 5(b). That doesn’t mean they have to do it.)

But he insisted.  Look, I said, this is basic level, 1L ConLaw stuff… the Hague Service Convention is a treaty of the United States.  It overrides everything else except the Constitution.  The Supremacy Clause?  Remember?

And the next question made my jaw drop.

“You got any case law to back that up?”

To back up the proposition that a treaty overrides state law?


Um, no, I don’t have any case law to back that up.  I have THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES. 

To break it down into digestible chunks…

Article VI, Para. 2
This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, 

(Hey, look!  The Hague Service Convention is a treaty, made under the authority of the United States!)

shall be the supreme law of the land;

(Any questions so far?)

and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby,

(Sorry, your honor.)

anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

(Uh oh.  Roy Moore must just be apoplectic about that one.)

So, no, Bruiser.  Tennessee law doesn’t control how a Tennessee action is served on a defendant in Switzerland.  The Hague Service Convention does.  So in turn, Swiss law does.

And for the record, you’re wrong about your own rules.  Tenn. R. Civ. P. 4A mirrors Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f), and they both specifically defer to the Convention.  Even if they didn’t, the Convention still overrides whatever state mandates might enter the picture because the Supremacy Clause says so.

So you, counsel, have a golden opportunity to thwart this guy and his B.S. antics if he brings up such a silly argument:

Leo F. Drummond, Esq., also of Memphis.***  He represents very mean people.

The Supremacy Clause is a thing.  And it’s called that for a reason.  Bank on it.

* No, it wasn’t actually Memphis.  Names have been changed to protect identities.  To be sure, this probably isn’t an accurate analysis of Tennessee rules, but that’s beside the point here.  For the record, the image up top is Mickey Rourke as Bruiser Stone in The Rainmaker, which is an absolute goldmine for Ethics CLE programmers, and one hell of a movie in its own right.  Bruiser was Matt Damon’s boss until he had to skip town and avoid a whole mess of trouble.

** Nope.  Not really Switzerland either.  This is illustrative, folks.

*** Yep.  Angelina Jolie’s dad.


The Mall, London. Union Jacks galore. “Ed g2s” via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s been a while since Civ Pro class, so here’s a quick FRCP refresher.  A claim for relief– which is to say, just about any complaint filed in federal court– has to be short.  And plain.  See Rule 8.

Rule 8. General Rules of Pleading

(a) Claim for Relief. A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain:

(1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support;

(2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and

(3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief.

In other words, NOTICE PLEADING.  Now, if you are fortunate enough to practice in a Notice Pleading state, good on ye.  This stuff applies to your whole practice.  In Fact Pleading states like mine… not much you can do to avoid lengthy pleadings entirely, but still… keep it short, Counsel.  Or as short as possible.

Missing the magic words in Rule 8 is pretty costly when a defendant must be served abroad.  With only a couple of exceptions, translation of service documents is mandatory in any foreign country that (1) is party to the Hague Service Convention and (2) didn’t once have the Union Jack flying over it.  So if you have a 120-page complaint, plan on writing a very large check to the translators– five figures, easy.  If you have seven hundred pages of patents as exhibits, it could be six figures.

Remember that we don’t get paid by the word, but translators do.  There’s a very easy way to keep that translation bill down, and that’s by adhering to 8(a)(2) with a vengeance.

Repeat after me:  SHORT. PLAIN.  SHORT.  PLAIN.


Stop it with the War & Peace thing, Tolstoy.

[This post is a mere 253 words long– not counting the rule text.  That is intentional.]

SNL’s Kate McKinnon, as Ginsburg, J. Oh, the irony of Vitamin C!

Another hat tip to Ted Folkman for pointing out a great “Case of the Day” last summer.  Animal Science Products, Inc. v. Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical Co. (S. Ct. 2018) was handed down in June, and at once clarifies and muddies an important part of Hague Service doctrine.  For the authoritative statement, I give you my favorite Justice,* writing for the Unanimous Nine:

A federal court should accord respectful consideration to a foreign government’s submission, but is not bound to accord conclusive effect to the foreign government’s statements.

Italics mine.  This holding is pertinent to service of process abroad, but I’m unsure just what effect it will have (read Ted’s post for a nice rundown of the facts and procedural posture).  In short, the Chinese government gave a conclusory statement that its law required price collusion among manufacturers of Vitamin C.  But China’s amicus brief failed to cite any particular code language or prior public policy statement, and was actually refuted by earlier public assertions by Beijing.

The gist of the opinion: yeah, trial courts should give a fair amount of deference to a foreign government’s statement of its own law, but that deference isn’t absolute.  A pretty reasonable rule, giving trial courts much needed latitude to reject specious statements by less-than-friendly governments or low-level officials who really don’t know what they’re talking about.

So what effect does that have on the almost bulletproof quality of Hague Certificates?  Well, maybe nothing.

And, yet, maybe quite a bit.

In Northrup King v. Compania Productora Semillas (1995), the 8th Circuit declined to “look behind” a Hague Certificate, accepting as facially conclusive a foreign Central Authority’s statement that service had been effected in accordance with that country’s own law.  This widely accepted deference gives considerable– perhaps unassailable– weight to the Certificate’s conclusions.  In short, if the foreign Authority says process has been served, for the purpose of U.S. law, it’s served.  And if a defendant wants to refute that conclusion, they must attack the Certificate in the foreign country’s court.  The Northrup King holding has long been the basis for my constant assertion that the Certificate is like a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket,** the keys to the castle, bulletproof.

I still contend that defense counsel should always question the validity of a Hague Certificate, but for different reasons— not the least of which is that not just anybody can sign a Hague request.  I’m no longer as sure about the Kevlar-like quality of even a valid Certificate.

That said, Northrup King accepted not just a conclusion of law, but of fact.  And it’s the factual conclusion that distinguishes the two cases, so the bulletproofness (yes, I made up that word) should still overcome a motion to quash.  I can’t say with certainty whether Animal Science Projects calls that into question.

Still, it’s arguable, and worth watching the interplay of these two cases.

* The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known in the wider zeitgeist as The Notorious RBG.  I met Justice Ginsburg in April, 2017, about an hour after being admitted to the Supreme Court Bar.  I highly recommend the experience, even if you never think you’ll argue there.

** Not my original thought.  I really don’t know whose it was.

Here’s what it would have looked like in 1933.

One of the biggest challenges in serving offshore defendant companies is ensuring that they’re properly named (see Always Name Your Defendant Entity Correctly).  Closely connected to that issue is the defendant’s address– simply put, if you don’t know where they are, I can’t get them served for you.  Both of these ideas are equally applicable to cases involving U.S. defendants, so this shouldn’t be an earth-shattering thought.  I suggested some time ago that, when executing a contract with an offshore party, a few things must at least be contemplated (see Five Essential Things…).  Chief among them is my advice to DESIGNATE AN AGENT FOR SERVICE IN THE UNITED STATES.  Do that, and you never have to retain somebody like me.

It’s not difficult– you can’t throw a rock in downtown Dover, Delaware without hitting a corporate agent.  A whole bunch of outfits are happy to accept service on a company’s behalf for a low annual fee.  But if that isn’t in the cards– ie: the offshore party refuses– at the very least, make sure the foreign entity actually exists before you hand them seventeen million dollars.

Look, if you’re a mortgage officer, and a young, nice-looking couple walk into your office so they can buy that $130,000 two-bedroom starter home, in addition to pay stubs and tax returns, you’re going to insist on a copy of their driver’s licenses to make sure they are who they say they are.

But a great number of my clients need to serve breach of contract complaints on offshore companies that the plaintiff never verified.  Now, to be sure, many of those litigants never ran their contract by a lawyer before signing… they trusted the other party, and only sought counsel when the deal soured.

But some of those contracts were drafted by lawyers who simply didn’t undertake due diligence.  Above all, lawyers…


Even if you KNOW them.

How?  The same way the mortgage officer insists on her borrowers’ ID’s.

When a foreign* company shows up to sign a contract, insist that they provide a Certificate of Incorporation or comparable document.  Essentially, you’re demanding to see the company’s birth certificate– and you’re going to use that birth certificate to go further in your verification.  Here in Missouri (and just about everywhere else), the Certificate indicates that the company was born on such & such a date and was, at one time anyway, a real thing.  It’s not that difficult to exercise due diligence and check the SoS website to verify that, yes, InBev International, Inc.  is still an active entity or that– uh oh– Anheuser-Busch Beverage Group, Inc. is not[Wait– Budweiser doesn’t exist anymore?!]

Overseas, corporate registries do pretty much the same thing.  We can easily discern that British Airways PLC is an active, registered company in England, its current incarnation incorporated in 1983.  We know that its registered address is Waterside, PO BOX 365, Harmondsworth, UB7 0GB.  Handy information to have.  And when I say to my solicitor, “hey, Nigel, could you send your process server out to tag these guys?’ he doesn’t bat an eyelash.**

But if the contract was formed in the absence of this knowledge, it could make service impossible.  In short… we’ve gotta find them first, and if we can’t, the case probably goes away.

* Foreign is a term of art.  It means “from outside the jurisdiction” in two senses: (1) in the “across the state line” sense and in the (2) “you need a passport to go there” sense.

** His name is not really Nigel.

The view from Stirling Castle. William Wallace bested the English here.

Two nights ago, my wife and I returned home from an all-too-brief visit to Scotland.  The daughter of some old friends got married in a beautiful ceremony in front of stunning seaside views, and then we traveled across the country & back again (this isn’t a big deal, as the country is barely eighty miles wide at the latitude we traveled).  Along the way, Peggy was a bit puzzled at times regarding terminology.

Okay, she said, we’re in Scotland, but also in England?  Huh?

Well, no.  We’re in Scotland, but also in Great Britain, and also in the United Kingdom (for now?) and the European Union (also for now).

I tried to explain that Scots are British, and Northern Irish are UK citizens but not British, and the Welsh will smack you for calling them English, as will the Scots and definitely the folks in the Republic of Ireland.  Scotch is term reserved only for whisky (not whiskey) and cellophane tape, and you refer to a person from Scotland as a Scot or Scottish.

Confused yet?  Well, you’re not alone.  Here’s a handy YouTube video that explains– very briefly– the difference between the geographic and political distinctions in the British Isles.  It’s the shortest of the bunch, but there are a slew of others that explain the various boundaries.

This is critical stuff when serving process.  It all falls under the Hague Service Convention, but saying “I need to serve a defendant in the UK” isn’t sufficiently specific to know what law governs.  Likewise, “I need to serve an Irish defendant” leaves out some critical details.  Once the defendant’s specific location is determined, the following guides are pertinent:

  • England & Wales (unified under the same legal regime)
  • Ireland (split into two jurisdictions)
  • Scotland (again, don’t call them English, or you’ll get hit)

Let me know if you need some guidance.  My understanding took decades to refine, and I’m still unsure at times.


To be sure, a good time was had by all– especially at the reception where (I’m am not making this up) I watched a couple of hundred Scotsmen sing The Proclaimers’ “500 Miles” to the bride and groom before their sendoff.  It was a stunning experience.  To the new Mr. and Mrs. Baird, I wish all possible joy and happiness.