WHAT DOES A HUISSIER DE JUSTICE DO?

This article will provide guidance on What Does A Huissier De Justice Do? Judicial officers in France are appointed by a magistrate of the court (or in France, the Minister of Justice) and have exclusive authority over the service and execution of court decisions and other legally binding instruments. Similar to a notary public, huissiers de justice act as official witnesses (constat d’huissier) to occurrences.

A huissier’s duties include issuing court summonses (assignments and quotations), serving legal documents, and authenticating the parties serving the documents. Lawyers also handle the enforcement and recovery of all court and legal claims, such as bankruptcies, property claims, seizures, and evictions. In addition, they are able to represent clients in insurance and property disputes and carry out orders issued by the Court of Appeals. They have exclusive authority to convene police hearings to ensure compliance with court orders and undertake non-exclusive operations, including mediating disputes, drafting findings of private deeds, and providing limited legal advice. 

BACKGROUND

Huissiers de justice serves in a public capacity and reports to the minister of justice. They perform the duties of the judicial officer and judicial auctioneer, respectively. The National Chamber of Justice Commissioners acts as the governing body for the profession. Huissiers, like notaries, are autonomous officers of the state. Changes brought about by reforms include more leeway for launching novel procedures (previously huissiers had to buy one from a retiring huissier). Other work may include collecting overdue payments (such as rent or a loan), seizing counterfeit items, or making a formal record (called un constat) of an event, such as a complaint about a noisy or unsightly neighbor or the status of an apartment after a tenant has moved out.

The huissiers de justice is appointed by the Minister of Justice. As bailiffs, they essentially have a monopoly on the service of procedural documents and enforcement. The huissier is the only auxiliary of justice empowered to carry out seizures and evictions. The bailiff can exercise their functions individually or in association with a professional civil society (SCP). Unlike a private process service agency like Undisputed Legal which will specifically ensure service is accomplished, huissiers have a host of other duties. 

THE NATURE OF THE HUISSIER JOB

The Huissier de Justice is the French counterpart of a bailiff. The huissier’s duties, however, are much more extensive and nuanced than those of the Anglo-American bailiff. The huissier is an official in the French State court system appointed by the government (officier public ministériel). Their function may be broken down into two categories: judicial and non-judicial. The primary role of the huissier is carrying out a court order or associated title, known as titre exécutoire.

For a fee, a huissier may provide general legal counsel on a wide range of issues, including but not limited to [A.] the practice of sending letters on someone else’s behalf to a third party that have some legal weight; [B.] constatting, or preparing a witness statement, which is a common first stage in judicial procedures; [C.] taking stock of a person’s assets and income in preparation for a lawsuit and possible garnishment orders; [D.] serving as a mediator between feuding parties (neighbors, for example); [E.] declaring by constant whether or not adultery has occurred based on the facts at hand and [F.] providing a credible third-party attestation to the signing, sealing, and delivery of documents (including electronic ones), so giving them binding legal effect and identifying and confirming the identities of the parties involved.

Huissiers are not only the ‘hard enforcers’ of the legal system in the bailiff sense but rather facilitators of justice. Although they have broad enforcement powers, they prefer to resolve disputes via negotiation and compromise before grudgingly enforcing a court decision. Commercial debt collection companies, which normally work solely per client direction, cannot be compared to these organizations. Although huissiers will take action to attempt to collect debts, they will need proof of the debt’s legality before taking any action.

A huissier, like a notaire or an attorney, is addressed as maître. A huissier is still required to be a French citizen without exception, however. Huissiers also serve as advisors and mediators, making house calls to provide guidance.  A police officer will often accompany the huissier during an eviction; however, this is not always the case during a seizure. 

WHEN CAN HUISSIERS PROVIDE THEIR SERVICE

In many cases, a huissier’s services are first encountered when one party seeks redress from another in court. Suppose a client has hired an advocate (avocat) to represent them in a legal matter and they end up with a judgment that has to be executed. In that case, the avocat will normally handle communication with the huissier. As a private process service agency, Undisputed Legal will be able to provide our client with documents to the Central Agency (according to the Hague Service Convention, ) and the institution will often engage the huissiers to provide service upon the defendants.

A client may, however, contact the huissier directly if the matter is one that they are authorized to advance themselves without court procedures or if they have a court judgment that they desire to execute independently.  It should be noted that this is the case primarily for domestic cases in France, however. 

It is the expectation of certain clients of huissiers that they would be operating alone on their behalf in all matters pertaining to disputes and their settlement. In this aspect, their job is analogous to that of the notaire in the sale of real estate, who serves as an agent of the state to verify the proper procedure has been followed rather than acting in the exclusive interest of the seller or the buyer.

COSTS OF HUISSIERS

Keep in mind that the huissier is serving a court order, fulfilling a third party’s request, or using their discretion in some other way. Within the bounds of the law, they must be reasonable and open to negotiation and take individual circumstances into account. Their rates are regulated by the state and published in the Tarifs réglementés des huissiers de justice in areas where they have a monopoly, and the customer has no other options. The State does not specifically prescribe that portion of its pricing structure.

The huissier is entitled to a majorization pour urgency or an émolument complémentaire de vacation if the actual execution of their responsibilities exceeds a term established by ministerial decree in cases where the state regulates the charge. They are also entitled to a success fee, a requirement ou d’encaissement, when they successfully collect a debt. If there is any money owed to the creditor, that charge might be taken out first.

Therefore, it is wise to clarify rates and billing terms with a huissier in detail before officially employing their services. 

PROCEDURE FOR SERVICE OF PAPERS ON A HUISSIER 

For most American attorneys, service under the Hague Service Convention is completing an opaque Article 5 request form, organizing a pile of documents, and sending it to a foreign central agency. As a private process service agency, Undisputed Legal is exceedingly capable of ensuring that the letter of request complies with the requirements of the Hague Service Convention. However, in many cases, a plaintiff can utilize Article 10(b) channels to achieve service. The Huissier de Justice is the key to this kind of prompt and efficient service in France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and even Québec after the documents have been securely sent by the local private process service agency. In the Netherlands, the gerechtsdeurwaarder fills a role comparable to that of the huissier 

In other words, if a foreign country does not object to Article 10, an American attorney may engage a huissier or gerechtsdeurwaarder directly to serve legal documents there. There is no need to submit a request to the Central Authority under Article 5. This allows a private process server to ensure the papers are delivered better.

It should be noted that *Germany, Austria, and German-speaking Switzerland also employ deurwaarders (in francophone Switzerland, these are still referred to as huissiers), but these nations take issue with Article 10; therefore, they are not considered further.  For defendants involved in high-conflict family law matters, bailiffs may be particularly important in reducing their anxiety. For many cases, they are the sole source of information available to the accused. 

Sources

1. Additionally, they can certify character evaluations for use as evidence in court.

2.  Additional duties assigned to the Commissioner of Justice include:

  1. Providing legally binding conclusions on factual issues (with the exception of criminal cases) at the request of the court or a person.
  2. To act as a liquidator in a judicial liquidation or as a judicial aide in a professional recovery
  3. Complete escrow requests (temporary guardian of a thing)
  4. Help the court decide a matter of fact by providing evidence.

3. To accomplish these primary goals, the Commissioner of Justice primarily focuses on the following:

Legally binding actions and judgments must be enforced.

Sell furniture that must be sold due to a legal requirement or a court order by conducting an inventory, setting prices, and holding a public auction.

  1. Whether for judicial or extrajudicial purposes, provide interpretation or notice.
  2. After initiating a succession, it is prudent to take preventative steps.
  3. Providing Support for Legal Proceedings
  4. To issue and enforce the check nonpayment recovery certificate.
  5. Adopt the Simplified Procedure for Collections of Small Claims.
  6. Validate the site’s status.
  7. Assist the Chief Clerk during the audit of the Trusteeship Accounts.

4. After the year 2017, they will be able to legally work in a broader region (the area for their judicial enforcement work will be that of the appeal court, covering several departments and not just one as of now).

5. Commercial competitions (such newspaper contests with a reward) are required to file their regulations with the huissiers, and huissiers occasionally run judicial auctions (as opposed to commercial ones – however, this may change).

6. Parts of the work that are monopolized include:

  1. Providing formal notice of judicial judgments, such as a summons, a divorce decree, or a demand for payment of a debt.
  2. Execution of judgments: taking possession of possessions, freezing bank accounts, evicting tenants, etc.
  3. Wearing a black robe and dealing with the logistics of court proceedings, such as maintaining case scheduling, among other duties.

7. A few of the ways in which they carry out judicial orders are as follows:

  1. Removing squatters from their homes via the courts and the help of local law enforcement;
  2. Taking property (or money) to pay off a debt;
  3. Trying to work out an alternative to eviction via discussion and negotiation with delinquent renters;
  4. Providing quality assurance by reviewing and challenging judicial decisions when they seem to be based on a mistake of law or procedure (courts are human and make errors; huissiers are responsible for catching them);
  5. Serving legal papers, such as subpoenas and summonses, on a person who has been properly recognized in accordance with a court order.

8. A ‘constat de l’état des lieux d’un appartement,’ for instance, would be a legal document attesting to the state a rental unit was left in after tenants moved out (perhaps providing the landlord with grounds for legal action pertaining to reimbursement)

9. A huissier’s word as to what they have seen in a constant is legally binding, but they also collect proof to back up their claims. Pictures are often included; they’re not required but may help make the point. In addition, a huissier will often produce audio and video records. 

10. The costs include three key parts that often add up over time:

  1. a one-time payment that is either a set amount or a percentage of the total, or both, and may be cumulative and adjusted using a factor;
  2. associated costs, such as mileage and lodging;
  3. Possibility of a management charge and a fee for debt collection services (in French, this is termed a ‘droit d’engagement de poursuites’).

11. The cost of a property inspection (constat de l’état des lieux) is determined by the square footage of the inspected space.

12. Article 10: The present Convention shall not interfere with (…) b) the freedom of judicial officers, officials, or other competent persons of the State of origin to effect service of judicial documents directly through the judicial officers, officials, or other competent persons of the State of destination, provided that the State of destination does not object to such service.

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