In Switzerland, documents may only be served through the appropriate Swiss Central Authority under the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters (20 UST 361; TIAS 6638) , to which the U.S. is a signatory, or by means of letters rotatory. The Swiss penal Code 271 provides that attorneys attempting to serve process are subject to arrest on criminal charges.
The text of the Hague Convention on Service, which is largely self-explanatory, is published in the Law Digest Volume of the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory under the heading, “Selected International Conventions.” The Hague Service Convention provides a convenient method of obtaining service by a foreign judicial authority. The party seeking service or the party’s attorney should obtain two copies of the Request for Service form (USM-94) from any U.S. Marshalls office. The form is also reprinted as an annex to the Convention in Martindale-Hubbell. Service is requested by sending the completed forms with the documents to be served and any appropriate translations, in duplicate, directly to a foreign central authority. In their accession to the treaty, the Swiss noted that service by mail directly to the parties involved is not permitted.
Methods of Service
Article 5, paragraph 3
Switzerland, in a reservation to its accession to the Convention, declared that in cases where the addressee does not voluntarily accept a document, it cannot officially be served on him or her in accordance with Article 5, first paragraph, unless it is in the language of the authority addressed, i.e. in German, French or Italian, or accompanied by a translation into one of these languages, depending on the part of Switzerland in which the document is to be served.
Article 8 – Service by Diplomatic or Consular Channels
Switzerland has declared that it objects to service by consular or diplomatic channels on its territory (Articles 8). Furthermore, officers of the Foreign Service of the United States are prohibited by Federal regulation (22 CFR 92.85) from serving process on behalf of private litigants or appointing others to do so,.any state law to the contrary notwithstanding.
Article 10 – Service By Mail or by Judicial Officer in Requested Foreign State
on ratification, Switzerland declared that it objects to the use of the methods of service referred to in Article 10, including service by postal channels.
As a general rule, the U.S. favors the use of service through the Convention Central Authority in other countries party to it. If service of process by registered mail is effected in a country like Switzerland which may not consider such service valid, enforcement of a U.S. judgment in that or a third country may be difficult.
The U.S. Embassy at Bern advises that the length of time required to effect service by the Government of Switzerland varies by case and canton, but will generally go fairly quickly. Because fewer bureaucratic steps are involved, service and taking of evidence under the Hague Conventions will likely be faster that the three months or longer required when using the letters rotatory method.
Status Reports and Proof of Service
The appropriate points of contact for status reports are the relevant cantonal central authorities. Proof of service will be forwarded directly to the applicant. For information on serving process by Letters Rotatory in Switzerland, please refer to the Judicial Assistance flyer on this topic.
Please note: The information in this circular relating to the legal requirements of a specific foreign country is provided for general information only. Questions involving interpretation of specific foreign laws should be addressed to foreign counsel.