When do the English courts have jurisdiction and when does English law apply?

Most commercial agreements/terms and conditions of business will stipulate the Court that has jurisdiction to hear disputes arising between the parties and the law which governs the agreement. 
In the absence of such a stipulation then the position is less straightforward and legal advice will be required.

How long does the process normally take?

Issuing and serving a claim against a debtor based overseas can take several months. Much depends on the location of the debtor, the method of service used and whether an application for permission to serve outside the jurisdiction has to be made before the claim can be issued. 

For example, it is not necessary to make an application for permission to serve outside the jurisdiction where the debtor is based in Scotland or Northern Ireland and if the English courts have exclusive jurisdiction to determine such disputes then the process for issuing and serving a claim can be relatively quick. 

How much does it cost?

The costs involved in issuing and serving a claim outside the jurisdiction will vary and will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • whether an application for permission to serve outside the jurisdiction needs to be made
  • what method of service is used
  • whether the claim form and other key documents have to be translated before the claim is served
  • whether it is necessary to consult a local lawyer before serving the claim. 

When do you need permission from the Court?

Generally, permission to serve a claim form on a debtor based outside the U.K is not required if the English courts have exclusive jurisdiction to settle disputes arising between parties and the debtor is based in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Singapore, Mexico or another EU member state. 

In all other cases, it may be necessary to make an application for permission to serve the claim form outside the jurisdiction at the same time as issuing proceedings. 

When do you need to obtain translations of key documents?

When the claim form is ready to be served on a debtor based overseas, you can contact the Foreign Process Section and they will be able to confirm whether it is necessary to obtain a translation of the claim form and other key documents before service takes place. 

In some EU countries, such as Cyprus and the Czech Republic, translations are not mandatory.  

How do I enforce a judgment against a debtor based outside of the jurisdiction?

If a debtor is based in Scotland or Northern Ireland, it is necessary to obtain a certificate from the English court which gave the judgment before making an application to the foreign court to register the judgment. This application has to be made within 6 months of the date of issue of the certificate and the judgment will take effect as a local judgment once registration has taken place. 

For proceedings issued against a debtor based in another EU member state the general steps which must be taken to enforce a judgment are as follows:

  • a certificate must be obtained from the English court certifying that the judgment is enforceable
  • the certificate must be served on the debtor (with a translation if requested)
  • the judgment can then be enforced as if it were a local judgment. 

Different rules apply to the enforcement of English judgments in Iceland, Norway and Switzerland and there are also reciprocal arrangements for the enforcement of judgments in commonwealth countries. 

In practice, enforcing English judgments outside of the jurisdiction can take a significant amount of time and local advice is essential.