What are Letters Rogatory or Letters of Request?

Letters rogatory, also known as letters of request, are a formal request made by a court to a foreign court for judicial assistance. These requests are often made when a court needs to obtain evidence from a witness located outside of its jurisdiction, or when it needs to serve legal documents to an individual in a foreign country.

Why are Letters Rogatory Necessary?

Normally, a court has the power to subpoena witnesses only within the jurisdiction of its own legislature. For example, if Alice in the United States needs to summon Jean from France to testify in a case, she cannot simply subpoena Jean to appear in a US courthouse. Instead, the US court must request assistance from the French court in order to obtain Jean's testimony. This is where letters rogatory come into play. The US court would issue a letter rogatory to the French court, asking for assistance in examining Jean in France and sending a deposition back to the US court.

How have Letters Rogatory Evolved Over Time?

In the past, letters rogatory could not usually be transmitted directly between the applicable courts and had to be transmitted via consular or diplomatic channels, which could make the process very slow. To address this issue, various international conventions have been implemented to simplify the procedure for letters rogatory.

One of the earliest conventions was the 1905 Civil Procedure Convention, signed at The Hague. However, this convention was only ratified by 22 countries and was only available in French. Later conventions, such as the Hague Service Convention (ratified by 60 countries including the UK and US) and the Hague Evidence Convention (ratified by 43 countries), were more widely supported and enabled designated authorities in each signatory state to transmit documents for service to each other, bypassing the diplomatic route.

For situations exclusively among member states of the European Union, two regulations (1348/2000 and 1206/2001) have superseded the two Hague Conventions. These regulations apply to each member state of the European Union with the exception of Denmark, which has opted out.

What are the Most Common Remedies Sought by Letters Rogatory?

The most common remedies sought through letters rogatory are service of process and taking of evidence. Service of process refers to the legal process of delivering a summons, complaint, or other legal documents to an individual or entity being sued. Taking of evidence refers to the process of obtaining testimony or documents from a witness in order to present it as evidence in a legal proceeding.

In the United States, the use of letters rogatory for requesting the taking of evidence has been largely replaced by applications under 28 USC 1782, or Section 1782 Discovery. This allows a US court to request evidence from a foreign court for use in a legal proceeding.

Can a Witness be compelled to Testify?

In some cases, a witness may be willing to provide testimony through letters rogatory. However, the foreign court may also have the power to compel the testimony of a witness who is unwilling to appear.

Letters rogatory, or letters of request, are a formal request made by a court to a foreign court for judicial assistance. These requests are often made when a court needs to obtain evidence from a witness located outside of its jurisdiction, or when it needs to serve legal documents to an individual in a foreign country. Through the use of various international conventions and regulations, the process of obtaining judicial assistance through letters rogatory has been streamlined and made more efficient.

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