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Is a sworn translation required for the international service of documents by judicial officers?

11 May 2023

In many cases of litigation, a company (or person) established in France may have to deliver a legal document to a recipient residing abroad (in or outside the EU). However, the handling of commercial and civil documents is regulated by law and service by a judicial officer is generally applied. Indeed, the question of methods for translating a document transmitted for service abroad and how to do so must be answered.

Service of documents by a judicial officer

Notification of civil or commercial documents from or to a foreign country may be handled by public prosecutors. In practice, however, they are served by a judicial officer.

Did you know? Service and notification are two different procedures. Both of these processes make it possible to bring information to the attention of the recipient in writing.

The notification is made by post, usually by sending a registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt. The service of documents is carried out by a judicial officer, who is the only one designated as competent: he makes sure that the document is understandable for the addressee (reminder of the legal texts, explanation of the content, possible request for translation, etc.)

Thus, the difference between notification and service is the legal security and the guarantee that only service by a judicial officer allows. It all depends, therefore, on what is at stake in your request. You should also be aware that in some cases the law requires service to be carried out.

A competence of the judicial officer

According to article 684 of the French Code of Civil Procedure, the document to be served to a company or individual residing abroad is taken care of by the judicial officer who transmits it to the addressee or to the competent authority of the addressee country (they carry out the formalities by taking into account the international conventions applicable in the country).

This will always fall to the “commissaire de justice” , a new status which will exercise the functions of judicial officers and commissioners from 2022.

The cases in point

The French judicial officer, competent for the service of European documents, receives requests for the service of documents to or from abroad, both within and outside the European area.

  • For documents sent abroad: the judicial officer, as the originating entity, transmits the document abroad once the necessary formalities have been completed. The officer checks the authenticity of the document, points out the compulsory mentions, searches for the required entity in the country of destination, makes sure of the official language or languages allowed… The decision-making body of the country of destination then takes charge of the service.
  • For documents coming from abroad: the judicial officer, as the receiving agenct, receives and serves the document from abroad.

Depending on the country of destination, the process of service and its modalities vary.

Translation of the serving documents

Is it mandatory?

Usually, the document to be served is written in the language of the State of origin. The request for service of documents abroad may, however, require a translation. It is not compulsory, but it is recommended. Indeed, the addressee is entitled to refuse the document and to demand its translation if it is not legible to him. He will then request a translation into the official language (or one of the official languages) of his country.

The procedural time limits only run from the actual service of the document. However, the date of service of the document is important in the context of compliance with these time limits, but also in the context of prescription issues. To avoid the risk of a refusal, it is best to anticipate the translation of the application form and the document concerned.

Why a sworn translation?

A sworn translation guarantees that the translation is true to the original.

A sworn translator is an expert who has taken an oath before a judicial body (the Court of Appeal, the Court of Cassation or the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris). It gives the translated document an official character. Also known as a “certified translation”, it has the same legal value with French or foreign administrative authorities. A sworn translation should not be confused with the certification procedure, which verifies that the expert translator has been approved by a judicial authority, as outlined in our article on the difference between sworn translation and certification.

Therefore, if a sworn translation is not compulsory, the judicial officer may advise it. This is a significant guarantee of reliability: the sworn translator provides an expert translation of the document into the official language of the recipient.

The specialised agency: a real partner for the judicial officer

An agency specialising in legal and sworn translations guarantees the judicial officer that the procedure will run smoothly. Expert translators are not only proficient in the source and target languages, but also have legal skills and a thorough knowledge of technical jargon. Finally, a specialised agency meets the client’s expectations in terms of deadlines.

The service of a judicial document from or to a foreign country is entrusted to judicial officers. Although translation is not compulsory, it is strongly recommended. The addressee may refuse to consider a request that is not made in the official language of his or her country. The sworn translator is a key partner of the judicial officer and ensures that the translation is expert and true to the original.