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Serving a legal document across international borders

Serving a legal document is an important procedural step in a formal legal dispute.

There are generally a number of different ways to serve a legal document across an international border.

The methods of serving a document depends on the country in which the documents are to be served. The financial and time constraints of the case will dictate the method chosen.

Information about overseas jurisdictions

The following links may assist in identifying which methods of document transmission and service are available in a destination country.

Information about Australia

Australia does not object to the use of private process servers, diplomatic channels or local agents. However, we have made reservations to article 10 of the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters 1965 (Hague Service Convention) with respect to the use of postal channels for the service of documents. We request that only registered post be used if documents are to be served by post.

Hague Service Convention

Australia is a member of the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters 1965 (Hague Service Convention). The Hague Service Convention can be used to transmit documents for service between two countries party to the convention.

The following fact sheets may also assist in understanding the transmission process and filling out the model letter of request.

Bilateral treaty

Australia is party to a number of bilateral treaties on judicial assistance. These treaties provide a method for the service of documents where the country is not a Hague Service Convention country and diplomatic channels or private process servers are not convenient or possible.

Diplomatic channels

Diplomatic channels are used for the transmission of information between diplomats and foreign states. In Australia these communications are sent and received by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Transmission of documents via diplomatic channels is usually only used where existing arrangements such as a bilateral or convention arrangement do not exist.

Countries may object to service via diplomatic channels for reasons of sovereignty. Countries may also object to service via diplomatic channels on their own citizens or limit the scope of service to Australian citizens only.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has advised this department that France is the only country that currently prohibits service via diplomatic channels.

Other methods

Private process servers, registered post and local agents may also be used in some circumstances to transmit and serve documents abroad. Service via these methods, however, is only possible if the country in which service is to be effected accepts this method of service. This department cannot provide information about private process servers' costs, or their contact details.

Countries may object to service via private process servers or registered post for reasons of sovereignty. Countries may also object to service via these channels on their own citizens or limit the scope of service to Australian citizens only. Service by registered post may also be limited to certain actions or judicial documents. Please also refer to the relevant Australian court rules to determine whether service by registered post will be sufficient.