The method of enforcing foreign judgments in Guernsey varies, depending on the jurisdiction (and indeed court) in which the original judgment is granted. Enforcement can be effected in one of two ways:- 

  1. Pursuant to the Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) (Guernsey) Law, 1957, as amended (“the Law”); and
  2. Under common law principles (for those cases in which the Law does not apply).

The Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) (Guernsey) Law, 1957, as amended

The Law permits foreign judgments to be registered in Guernsey if certain criteria are fulfilled. The first requirement is that the country in which the judgment is made must be a reciprocating country. Reciprocating countries are designated in a number of Ordinances made under the Law, and currently include England and Wales; the Isle of Man; Israel; Jersey; the Netherlands; the Netherlands Antilles; Northern Ireland; Italy; Scotland and Suriname.

Secondly, the judgment must come from one of the superior courts of a reciprocating country (e.g. in the case of England and Wales, the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal or the High Court of Justice). It should be noted, however, that in the recent case of Manches LLP v Inter Global Financial Limited [2009] 10 GLR 283, and contrary to what had previously been thought, it was held that a judgment given in an English County Court and then transferred to the High Court for the purposes of enforcement was registrable in Guernsey under the Law. 

Once satisfied that a judgment emanates from a superior court of a reciprocating country, the Guernsey courts will then examine whether (according to Guernsey rules) the original court had appropriate jurisdiction. Different criteria will apply to this exercise, depending on whether the court is dealing with an action in personam, an action in relation to immovable property, or an action in rem where the subject matter is movable property.

Assuming that the superior court of the reciprocating country had appropriate jurisdiction, the next question is whether the judgment is a type of judgment to which the Law applies. Where you are seeking to enforce a judgment for damages, this will be the case if the judgment is:- 

  1. final and conclusive (notwithstanding any pending appeal);
  2. for a sum of money payable – not related to taxes or other similar charges, fines or other penalties; and
  3. less than 6 years old.

It is not possible to register a judgment if it relates to matrimonial proceedings, administration of the estates of deceased persons, insolvency, company winding up, mental incapacity or guardianship of infants. The Royal Court is often prepared to offer international legal assistance in such cases, but they are not covered by the Law and different principles apply. 

If the judgment in question fulfils all the necessary criteria then an application may be made for registration. This is done ex parte, supported by evidence on affidavit together with a certified copy of the foreign judgment. The content of the affidavit must comply with certain rules. 

The court can apply conditions to registration, e.g. conditions concerning security for costs, service on the judgment debtor, etc. Once a judgment is registered, however, it has the same force and effect as if the original judgment had been granted in the Royal Court with the result that, inter alia, judgment interest can accrue from the date of registration.

Usually, the debtor has 14 days from the date of service of notice of registration to apply to have the registration set aside. Different periods may apply, depending on which country in the world the judgment debtor is believed to be resident in. Applications for registration to be set aside can only be made on limited grounds, which are set out under sections 6 and 7 of the Law. They include such grounds as that the Law did not apply to the judgment, an appeal is pending in the original jurisdiction, or that the original court did not have jurisdiction. 

If one of the relevant grounds is made out, the Royal Court may set aside the registration.

Common Law Principles

If the Law does not apply to the judgment in question, it may still be recognised and enforced in Guernsey on ordinary common law principles and subject to the Guernsey rules of private international law. The usual route to enforcement of a foreign judgment at common law is to sue on that judgment as an ordinary civil debt. In many such cases, there will be no real defence to the action and summary judgment will be a possibility. 

Enforcement

Once a foreign judgment has been registered, or once judgment has been obtained under common law principles, there comes the question of enforcement. In Guernsey, money judgments are enforced by HM Sheriff who can seize assets and /or set up a wage arrest. HM Sherriff can also pursue désastre proceedings (a summary form of enforcement against assets of insolvent persons for the benefit of known creditors.) Alternatively, creditors may utilise the Guernsey law of Saisie in order to enforce against a debtor’s immovable property, but complicated rules apply to such proceedings and legal advice and assistance should always be sought.