As the world becomes smaller, we’re witnessing more and more Court Judgments being obtained by Claimants, often in Spain, France or popular ex-pat, or second-home destinations where a Defendant hasn’t participated in the Court process. Sometimes this is extremely unfair; Court papers may have been served in accordance with local rules, which often, in Europe, means just advertising the Court claim on a notice-board in a Council building. Similarly, papers may be served at an old address or somewhere you may visit only once or twice a year.
This can affect individuals and Companies alike. It may relate to a foreign property, a consumer contract or a business agreement relating to large sums of money, land or both. This is particularly important if you or business trade with companies abroad.
Often the first time an individual or a company knows about a foreign judgment is when an application is made to the High Court in England or Wales to register the European or Foreign Judgment before enforcement steps begin in their home country.
The Court process to set aside Judgments is extremely rigid and a fixed set of criteria has to be met. This is particularly the case for foreign Judgments which are being registered under a very complex regime or regimes. This is likely to become more convoluted once Brexit becomes a reality.
A very strict time limit applies for contesting the registration of a foreign Judgment in England & Wales and if this time is missed, there is very limited opportunity to do anything about it.
A Judgment which isn’t expected or known about can have huge impact on you or your business. It can affect your credit rating through credit referencing agencies and can have untold impact on your future business and whether you’ll be able to trade with existing suppliers on current terms. More importantly however, you could be the subject of enforcement proceedings by an application to the Court by the Claimant for a legal charge over your property, an order to attend Court for questioning, High Court Enforcement Officers at your home or business premises, or worse still, bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings.
Everyone should be aware that there is the option of contesting the registration of foreign judgments and often this needs to be done in conjunction with lawyers based foreign jurisdiction to mount a defence if one is available to you. In our experience sometimes both steps have to be taken together. A registration in the High Court can be postponed if it can be shown that you are taking active steps to contest the Judgment in the foreign country where the Judgment originated.
One thing is certain though. You need to act quickly from the point at which you become aware of the Judgment or the application to register it in England & Wales. The law and the procedure in this hugely important area is complex and needs specialist legal advice as the wrong application could have severe costs consequences and could even mean your Judgment isn’t set aside by the Court.
Watch this space for details as to how these processes change (or not) as Brexit approaches and we will be certain to post an update once matters become clearer. Also see our separate article for individuals and businesses who wish to pursue another party based abroad and particularly in Europe.