Service of Documents
In connection with judicial proceedings, courts sometimes need to serve documents, such as summonses and invitations to appear in court, on persons residing or companies located in another country. When the service of documents takes place in a foreign country, the courts need legal assistance of the judicial authorities of the foreign country in question. Sometimes, documents need to be served abroad when the matter is not yet pending at a court (in the case a will to be served, for example). As a rule, a court is the body responsible for transmitting documents from Finland to a foreign country.
Requests for service of documents abroad
As a rule, courts are responsible for transmitting judicial documents, such as summonses and invitations to appear in court, from Finland to a foreign country. Service of documents is effected in compliance with EU law or an international treaty depending on whether the recipient of the documents resides in another Nordic country, another EU Member State, a Contracting State to the Hague Service Convention, or some other country.
The applicable EU law or international treaty determines what kind of procedure is to be followed in the service of documents.
The alternative procedures are:
- A court sends the documents directly to the recipient by post.
- A court sends the documents to the competent authority in the receiving country for further measures.
- A court sends the documents to the Central Authority in Finland (Ministry of Justice) which forwards them to the foreign country.
Detailed provisions governing the service of documents must always be checked in the applicable EU law or international treaty. In the absence of an applicable EU legal act or international treaty, documents are transmitted from the court to the receiving country through the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The responsibility for the service of wills and other extrajudicial documents abroad has been transferred from the regional state administrative agencies to the district courts. A request for the service of such documents may be made to any district court.
Some countries charge a fee for the service of documents.
Requests for service of documents in Finland
When a foreign country needs to have documents served in Finland, the options are, depending on the applicable EU law or international treaty, that the documents are sent directly by post to the recipient residing in Finland, to the competent district court, or to the Central Authority for further measures. In the two last mentioned cases, the practical procedure is usually that a process server employed by a district court personally serves the documents on the recipient. Service of documents effected under a request for legal assistance is free of charge.
Requests for service of documents may be sent to Finland without the documents being translated into Finnish or Swedish, but the recipient may refuse to accept them if he or she does not understand the language.
In Finland, the Ministry of Justice is the Central Authority designated under the EU Service Regulation and the international treaties governing the service of documents. In cases where no agreement on direct transmission has been made between the countries in question, the Central Authority is responsible for transmitting the requests for service. Furthermore, the Central Authority provides guidance, training and advice on the application of the treaties.
Relevant legislation and treaties binding on Finland
Between the EU Member States, service of documents is governed by the EU Service Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2020/1784 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2020 on the service in the Member States of judicial and extrajudicial documents in civil or commercial matters (service of documents) (recast).
Under the Regulation, the main principle to be applied is that the competent authorities (courts in Finland) send documents directly by post to an addressee residing in another EU Member State. Secondarily, documents are transmitted by a court to the competent authority in the receiving country for service. The EU Service Regulation is directly applicable legislation, and it contains detailed provisions on the requirements concerning the language and translation of documents to be served, for example.
The text of the Regulation, the transmitting and receiving authorities, the standard forms, and other practical information are available on the European e-Justice Portal.
Between the Nordic countries, the Agreement between Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden on Mutual Legal Assistance in Service of Documents and Production of Evidence (Finnish Treaty Series 26/1975) is applied. The Nordic Agreement is based on the principle of direct transmission between the competent authorities. In Finland, courts send the documents directly to the receiving authority in the other Nordic country.
Finland has also ratified the Hague Service Convention (Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters, Finnish Treaty Series 51/1969). The Convention is applied in relation to the United States of America and Russia, for example. When this Convention is applied, Finnish courts send the documents to be served to the Central Authority of the receiving country.
The full text of the Convention, explanatory documents, a list of the Contracting States and the declarations and reservations made by them, the mandatory form, and other practical information are available on the website of the Hague Conference.
Documents to those countries with which Finland has no agreement are transmitted by the courts to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which forwards them for service abroad.
Related national legislation:
The national provisions on requesting and providing legal assistance in the service of documents are included in the Act on International Legal Assistance and Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters (426/2015). This Act is, however, secondary in nature in relation to EU law and the international treaties.
In addition to the Act mentioned above, the provisions on service of documents laid down in the Code of Judicial Procedure (4/1734) must be observed.
Further information: the national legislation and the international treaties are available in the Finlex Data Bank.
Maija Leppä, Senior Ministerial Adviser
Ministry of Justice, Department for Private Law and Administration of Justice, International Judicial Assistance Telephone:0295150301