Despite the famous ‘special relationship’ enforcing a judgment from a court in the United States in England, isn’t always straightforward.
Curiously, there is no reciprocal agreement, allowing the mutual recognition and easy enforcement of judgments in either country.
The only way to enforce a US judgment in the jurisdiction of England & Wales (throughout this page, this will be referred to as ‘England’ or ‘English Court’) is to enforce it at common law, by bringing a new action in the English courts, with the US judgment becoming the cause of action. At that point, the US judgment is treated as a contractual debt and new proceedings are therefore issued in an English Court for payment of that ‘debt’.
Essentially, it is not possible to enforce a US judgment in England directly; you must first obtain an English judgment.
Our expert commercial litigation lawyers and solicitors are adept at enforcing judgments from around the globe and set out some of the considerations an English court will look at, when reviewing a US judgment.
A US judgment is only enforceable at common law if certain conditions have been met. These conditions are as follows:
Final and conclusive
For a US judgment to be enforceable through the English courts, it must be a final and conclusive judgment in the court that handed down the judgment. If the US judgment is subject to an appeal, it is likely that the English court will stay enforcement proceedings until the outcome of that appeal is apparent.
If the matter proceeds to a summary judgment hearing, it may be necessary for a US lawyer to provide evidence as to a judgment’s final and conclusive nature.
Ascertainable and definite sum of money
Only US judgments which relate to a definite sum of money can be enforced in England and those which relate to a declaration rather than a payment of money cannot be enforced. In order for that money judgment to be enforced in the English courts, it must not be relating to taxes, a fine, or any other form of penalty payable to the state (with a few exceptions).
In order to enforce a US judgment in the English court, it must first be satisfied that the US court which handed down the judgment had jurisdiction to hear the claim.
The US court will be determined as having had jurisdiction to hear the claim if:
- The judgment debtor was present in the US at the time the proceedings were issued; or
- The judgment debtor has submitted to the jurisdiction of the US court in some other way.
A judgment debtor cannot be considered as having submitted to the US jurisdiction I they have only appeared in the proceedings to:
- Contest the court’s jurisdiction;
- Ask the court to dismiss or stay proceedings in favour or arbitration or the court of another country; or
- To protect threatened or seized property within the proceedings (if applicable)
If a US judgment would not have been obtained without fraud, it will not be recognised or enforceable by the English courts.
If a US judgment is against English public policy or the European Convention on Human Rights then an English court will not recognise or enforce the judgment.
When deciding whether a US judgment can be enforced in England, the English courts will look specifically at how it was awarded. Any judgments which are deemed to have been made contrary to natural or substantive justice will not be enforceable in England. An example, which is obviously dependent on the specific case facts, is if a judgment is obtained without the defending party having any proper opportunity to defend itself.
How is the US judgment enforced here?
To obtain an English judgment, the enforcing party must bring fresh proceedings against the judgment debtor in England. The claim form must be served within England or, if the judgment debtor is located in the US, the court’s permission must be gained to serve the claim form out of the jurisdiction. If the judgment debtor has assets in the UK, it is likely that the English court will grant permission for service out of the jurisdiction.
The enforcing party, who will now be known as the claimant in English proceedings, will wait to receive the judgment debtor’s acknowledgment of service and/or admission and/or defence.
Usually, the claimant will then apply for summary judgment based on the US judgment and the notion that the judgment debtor has no real prospect of successfully defending the claim. Due to there being only a few bases upon which a judgment debtor may defend such a claim, it is very often successful.
This process enables the enforcement of the US judgment to take place quickly without the need of full proceedings or trial and as a result, fees are significantly lower than the alternative.
The English court will not usually review the merits of an existing US judgment, unless there is a reason to do so. However, all six of the above conditions on this page must be satisfied before the US judgment will be enforceable in England. It is for the debtor to attempt to prove that one of these conditions has not been met.
Despite the process sounding complex and overly technical, our lawyers can cut through the procedure and move as quickly as possible to get the US judgment registered and enforced, allowing your business to recover the funds.
Our solicitors will always offer a free, no-obligation appraisal and can be contacted on: