A WORLD ORGANISATION…
With 80 Members (79 States and the European Union) representing all continents, the Hague Conference on Private International Law is a global inter-governmental organisation. A melting pot of different legal traditions, it develops and services multilateral legal instruments, which respond to global needs.
An increasing number of non-Member States are also becoming Parties to the Hague Conventions. As a result, the work of the Conference encompasses more than 140 countries around the world.
…BUILDING BRIDGES BETWEEN LEGAL SYSTEMS…
Personal and family or commercial situations which are connected with more than one country are commonplace in the modern world. These may be affected by differences between the legal systems in those countries. With a view to resolving these differences, States have adopted special rules known as "private international law" rules.
The statutory mission of the Conference is to work for the "progressive unification" of these rules. This involves finding internationally-agreed approaches to issues such as jurisdiction of the courts, applicable law, and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in a wide range of areas, from commercial law and banking law to international civil procedure and from child protection to matters of marriage and personal status.
Over the years, the Conference has, in carrying out its mission, increasingly become a centre for international judicial and administrative co-operation in the area of private law, especially in the fields of protection of the family and children, of civil procedure and commercial law.
… AND REINFORCING LEGAL CERTAINTY AND SECURITY
The ultimate goal of the Organisation is to work for a world in which, despite the differences between legal systems, persons - individuals as well as companies - can enjoy a high degree of legal security.
A LONG-STANDING ORGANISATION…
The Conference held its first meeting in 1893, on the initiative of T.M.C. Asser (Nobel Peace Prize 1911). It became a permanent inter-governmental organisation in 1955, upon entry into force of its Statute.
…GOVERNED AND FUNDED BY ITS MEMBERS…
The Organisation meets in principle every four years in Plenary Session (ordinary Diplomatic Session) to negotiate and adopt Conventions and to decide upon future work. The Conventions are prepared by Special Commissions or working groups held several times a year, generally at the Peace Palace in The Hague, increasingly in various member countries. Special Commissions are also organised to review the operation of the Conventions and adopt recommendations with the object of improving the effectiveness of the Conventions and promoting consistent practices and interpretation.
The Organisation is funded principally by its Members. Its budget is approved every year by the Council of Diplomatic Representatives of Member States. The Organisation also seeks and receives some funding for special projects from other sources.
…BASED IN THE HAGUE, CENTRE OF INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE
Activities of the Conference are co-ordinated by a multinational Secretariat – the Permanent Bureau – located in The Hague. The Conference’s working languages are English and French.
The Secretariat prepares the Plenary Sessions and Special Commissions, and carries out the basic research required for any subject taken up by the Conference. It also engages in various activities to support the effective implementation and operation of the Conventions.
In addition to Diplomatic representations in The Netherlands, the Secretariat maintains direct contacts with its Members through designated National and Contact Organs. It also develops permanent contacts with experts and delegates of the Members, with the national Central Authorities designated under certain Conventions, as well as with international governmental and non-governmental organisations, and with professional and academic communities. Increasingly, the Secretariat also responds to requests for information from users of the Conventions.
THE HAGUE CONVENTIONS
Between 1893 and 1904, the Conference adopted 7 international Conventions, which have all been subsequently replaced by more modern instruments.
Between 1951 and 2008, the Conference adopted 38 international Conventions, the practical operation of many of which is regularly reviewed by Special Commissions. Even when they are not ratified, the Conventions have an influence upon legal systems, in both Member and non-Member States. They also form a source of inspiration for efforts to unify private international law at the regional level, for example within the Organisation of American States or the European Union.
The most widely ratified Conventions deal with:
The abolition of legalisation (Apostille)
Service of process
Taking of evidence abroad
Access to justice
International child abduction
Conflicts of laws relating to the form of testamentary dispositions
Recognition of divorces
The most recent Conventions are the Convention on the Law Applicable to Certain Rights in respect of Securities held with an Intermediary (2006), the Convention on Choice of Court Agreements (2005), the Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance together with the Protocol on the Law Applicable to Maintenance Obligations (2007).
Cross-border mediation in family matters, choice of law in international contracts, accessing the content of foreign law and the possible need for the development of a global instrument in these areas are also on the agenda, together with, without priority, the following topics: questions of private international law raised by the information society, including electronic commerce, conflict of jurisdictions, applicable law and international judicial and administrative co-operation in respect of civil liability for environmental damage; jurisdiction and recognition and enforcement of decisions in matters of succession upon death and questions of private international law relating to unmarried couples; as well as assessment and analysis of transnational legal issues relating to indirectly held securities and security interests, taking into account in particular the work undertaken by other international organisations.
Furthermore, the Permanent Bureau has undertaken feasibility studies on the treatment of foreign law, cross-border mediation in family matters, the choice of law in international contracts. The Permanent Bureau also continues its exploration of the possibility to apply certain techniques it has developed in the area of international co-operation to aspects of international migration.
EDUCATION AND EXCHANGE
With the aim of harmonising the implementation of the Conventions, the Secretariat organises, assists in organising and participates in conferences and seminars held at international, regional and national levels to educate the various persons involved in the implementation of the Conventions, including judges, Central Authority personnel and members of the legal profession. A judicial newsletter on international child protection is also published. The Permanent Bureau is regularly visited by groups of interested persons such as parliamentarians and students. An increasing number of stagiaires, as well as civil servants seconded by their Governments, spend time working within the Secretariat. Members of the Permanent Bureau regularly publish articles in learned journals and contribute to books and other publications.
A SOURCE OF INFORMATION CONSTANTLY UPDATED
The Permanent Bureau regularly publishes and maintains a Collection of Conventions together with handbooks on the operation of certain Conventions. It also edits the Proceedings of each of the Sessions which now encompasses an impressive collection of "Actes et Documents". Some of these documents are also available on CD-ROM or microfiches.
The Conference website, www.hcch.net, presents general information concerning the Hague Conference as well as detailed and updated information on the Hague Conventions: texts of the Conventions, full status reports, bibliographies, information regarding the authorities designated under the Conventions on judicial and administrative co-operation, explanatory reports, etc.
INCADAT, the International Child Abduction Database, www.incadat.com, is a special initiative which provides easy access to many of the leading judicial decisions taken by national courts around the world in respect of the 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction.
INCASTAT, an electronic statistical database which generates the Annual Statistical Forms concerning return and access applications, has been made available for Central Authorities designated under the 1980 Child Abduction Convention.
[The above text, taken from the bilingual English-French HCCH brochure, is also available in Arabic.]