Serving foreign proceedings on Russian defendants in Russia under the Hague Convention is often problematic and time-consuming. The BVI and English High Courts have recently addressed a similar problem in this respect, but in rather different ways. 

In the BVI case of JSC VTB Bank v Katunin and another (BVIHC (Com) No. 62 of 2014), the bank sought to enforce a Russian judgment at common law in the BVI. The bank's evidence was that Mr Katunin would not attend at the relevant Russian Court through which Hague service of the BVI proceedings might be effected. Accordingly, the bank said, Mr Katunin could and likely would simply evade Hague service. The BVI Court accepted this evidence and agreed that Mr Katunin could be served by alternative means, by service at the registered offices of companies he controlled in the BVI, without even an attempt at Hague service being made. 

Shortly after this decision, the English High Court wrestled with a similar problem but with a rather different outcome. In Vladimir Sloutsker v Olga Romanova [2015] EWHC 545 (QB), attempts were made to serve the intended Russian defendant through the Hague process. The defendant was served with a summons to attend at the requisite Russian Court hearing at which service of the English proceedings would have been effected. However, she did not attend the hearing. 

Nonetheless, and notwithstanding that the Russian judge herself stated that service of the English proceedings had not been effected, the English High Court determined on the basis of expert evidence of Russian law that service had, in fact, been effected. The English judge noted in his summary of the evidence that "it would be a very strange and improbable gap in Russian procedural law if it permitted a defendant to evade effective service of proceedings by the simple expedient of not turning up at a Service Hearing". As such, an order for alternative service was unnecessary. 

The decision in Sloutsker v Romanova is positive news for those who regularly have to attempt service in Russia under the Hague Convention. It suggests that the sort of alternative service order made in VTB v Katunin will rarely be needed in cases with similar facts, if the relevant court is satisfied that the Russian defendant cannot easily evade Hague service. The starting point is likely to be that Hague service should usually be attempted before an application for alternative service is appropriate.