EC to set up agencies to handle exchange of legal documents

A EUROPEAN Union-wide system for the exchange of legal documents from one state to another has been proposed by the European Commission to underpin the legal foundations of the European Union single market.

If the move is agreed by the EU Council of Ministers, “transmitting and receiving agencies” will be set up in each member state.

The agencies would handle documents related to judicial proceedings and non-judicial documents, such as notarial deeds or claim forms.

Criminal and tax cases are not covered by the proposal.

Under its terms, documents, along with a special form, would have to be written in either an official language of the receiving country or a language “which the addressee understands”.

A commission statement says: “The main objective of the directive on transmission of documents is to avoid delays and confusion in the transmission of legal and other documents between member states.

“It makes provisions to establish more direct channels between persons and authorities responsible.”

William King, partner of City firm Macfarlanes and chairman of the City of London Law Society's intellectual property sub-committee, says: “This is like motherhood and apple pie. Everyone is going to say it's a good idea. But in the real world, I don't think this is a big problem for the profession.

“As far as English law firms are concerned, we have offices overseas or very close connections with firms in a particular jurisdiction, who deal with this type of thing all the time.”

EC Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Anita Gradin says: “With an enhanced co-operation in the area of civil law, we will contribute considerably to the smoother functioning of the internal market, for individuals as well as for companies.”