Jonathan Haydn-Williams is senior associate at Taylor Joynson Garrett.

On 3 June, the 15 member states of the EU signed a convention on the service of judicial and extra-judicial docu- ments in civil or commercial matters. This is intended to expedite service in the EU.

For some time, uniform rules have operated in the EU to determine which country's courts have jurisdiction in cross-border disputes and to enable judgments of courts in one EU state to be enforced in other EU states (the Brussels and Lugano Conventions). These have worked well in practice, but measures to improve the service of writs across the EU's internal borders are needed.

A solicitor serving a writ on a defendant in another EU state has been faced with a confusing picture. Many EU states are party to the 1965 Hague Convention on service of documents and there are bi-lateral conventions between some states. Service by an agent appointed by the plaintiff can avoid the delays that arise under the existing conventions, but not all states have allowed this.

The new convention does not introduce a set of uniform rules. Instead, each state must appoint a transmitting and a receiving agency.

Documents will be passed under cover of a standard request form and by the swiftest means of transmission (including fax and e-mail). The receiving agency must, within seven days, notify the transmitting agency of receipt of the request and must attempt to serve the document as soon as possible.

The convention will not come into force until ratified by all EU states, but each state may declare itself to be bound by the convention as regards other states which also declare themselves to be bound.

Therefore, there may be a period of transition in which the picture becomes more complicated before becoming clearer. On ratification, each state may indicate whether it will permit postal service. It is to be hoped that all will.

Except for the rules as to date of service, the convention's text is simple and clear. While greater harmonisation of methods of service might have been desirable, it is nonetheless a move in the right direction.

The convention has an executive committee to oversee the functioning of the new procedures and this should provide a mechanism for promoting future improvements.