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Service is the formal procedure by which a document is brought to a person’s knowledge. Simple service (in French “notification”) is sufficient in some cases; service by bailiff (in French “signification”) is required in others.
Documents (such as summonses, judgments in special cases, etc.) can be served simply. However, they must be served by a bailiff if it is established that simple service has failed.
existenceof specific procedures with regard to the service of summonses is explained by the importance of the formal procedures followed during the course of a case: it is from the completion of service that certain deadlines are counted; for example, for appearing in a court or lodging an appeal.
All the important documents of a case must be served on the other party: the claim, the findings, the judgement, etc.
The law requires that certain documents should be served on the other party by a bailiff. The bailiff, who is a law official, has a monopoly on formal service. This monopoly is explained by security considerations connected to the importance of the procedure.
Other documents may be served by ordinary procedures, i.e :
The service of a document from or to a Member State of the European Union is governed by Council Regulation 1348/2000 of 29May 2000 on the service of judicial and extra-judicial documents in civil or commercial matters.
In the application of this regulation, France has made provision for bailiffs and clerks of the court to be competent to transmit documents to Member States. In general terms, the National Chamber of Bailiffs is competent to receive documents coming from other Member States :
Chambre National des Huissiers de Justice (National Chamber of Bailiffs) ,
Service des actes étrangers (Foreign documents department) ,
44, rue de Douai,
F - 75009 Paris.
With regard to serving a document, the competent bailiff is the resident bailiff of the court of first instance in whose jurisdiction the addressee is domiciled. The bailiff presents himself at the addressee’s domicile between 06:00 and 21:00 on a working day. If the latter is present, the document is handed to him personally.
Service by post must be done using a sealed envelope or letter. When service is by ordinary letter, the postman places the letter in the addressee’s letterbox. If it is by registered letter with advice of receipt, the postman hands the letter to the addressee.
Under current law, service by fax or e-mail is not valid..
With regard to service by registered letter, if the addressee is absent, a calling card is left at his domicile and the letter is held at the local post office for him to collect within 15 days. If the letter is not collected within this period, it is returned to the sender.
With regard to service by bailiff, if it is impossible to serve it on the person,the bailiff may hand a copy of the document to anyone present within the domicile, to the caretaker, or as a last resort to a neighbour. If the bailiff, after having checked on the reality of the addressee’s domicile or residence,has found no one able or willing to accept the document, he must hand it in at the town hall. The document is retained at the town hall of the addressee’s place of domicile for a period of three months.
In these two situations, the bailiff must leave a calling card in the addressee’s letter box. If the addressee cannot be found, his domicile or place of work having been visited in vain, the bailiff must search for the addressee’s new domicile. He draws up a report on his unsuccessful searches and sends a copy of the document by registered letter with advice of receipt.
With regard to a registered letter with advice of receipt, proof that the document has been presented is given by the signature of the person concerned on the advice of receipt form, which is then despatched to the sender.
In the event of bailiff service, the notes made by the bailiff in his report on the service process are taken to be authentic unless forgery is proved.
If the conditions required by law, especially the formal requirements for the service of summonses are violated, the document may be declared null and void. Only a court order can make that declaration.
When the cause of nullity is based on a technicality, it must have caused the opposing party to sustain a loss.
But technical and fundamental irregularities alike can be annulled if the document is regularised.
The judge must raise the issue of nullity based on a fundamental irregularity of his own motion when it infringes a rule of public order. In other cases, the objection may only be raised by the interested party.
When the court office has to serve a document on a party but the letter is returned to the court office since it has not been possible to hand it to the addressee (note on the envelope “does not live at the address shown” or registered letter not delivered) , the court office will invite the party to proceed to bailiff service.
When a document has not been served on anyone, proceedings will continue. In the end, if judgement is made in absentia, the party will have the option of entering opposition, that is, to have his case retried by the same court.
The cost of postal service is the current postal rate. There is a fixed charge for bailiff service.
Service by the court office is free. Other forms of services are at the expense of the person originating them, except if the latter is receiving legal aid: in this situation the State will advance the costs of having the document served. At the end of the proceedings, the judge will, as a rule, award these costs against the losing party, except where, for reasons of equity or the party’s financial situation, an alternative solution is called for.
Foreign documents department,
44, rue de Douai,
Last update: 03-05-2005