Blockchain for Central Authorities?
Posted on August 23, 2019
Burcu Yüksel and Florian Heindler have published a post on “Use of Blockchain Technology in Cross-Border Legal Cooperation under the Conventions of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH).” Jan Von Hein reviewed it at Conflict of Laws, and I’m going to review it here. I have a feeling that my post today will be read more than the usual Letters Blogatory post because it has the word “blockchain” in it. #Blockchain. Block. Chain.
The post explains that the HCCH Permanent Bureau is working on technical standards for improving the exchange of information with central authorities under the Service and Evidence Conventions, and it proposes using the blockchain as a protocol for those communications. From the perspective of a lawyer in private practice, this seems perhaps like a solution in search of a problem. In my experience getting the papers to the foreign central authority is not usually the problem, and is not usually the source of delay. I have used services such as FedEx or the Postal Service’s global express mail service. In some cases, particularly where I have contacts at the central authority, I’ve asked for and gotten permission simply to email the documents. There can be some delay in receiving the central authority’s certificate once it has executed the request, depending on the method of transmission the central authority uses (regular air mail, for example, takes time). It would be good to have a way to receive notification instantly once the central authority has executed the request, and it might even be nice to have the benefits of datestamping and authentication that blockchain technology provides.
But the most pressing need for litigants is to have more insight about what is happening between the time the central authority receives the request and the time it executes the request. For the most part, the central authority is a black hole. Nothing, not even light, and certainly no information, escapes from it. In some countries you can get informal updates. But it can take some central authorities many months to execute a request, and usually there is no way to know what if anything is being done in that time. If there is to be an online system for communicating with central authorities, what would really be most helpful would be for the status of each request to be available online. I do not mean to suggest that that is practical. Each country executes requests under its own law, and so there would be no “one size fits all” answer, and anyway, I am not sure adding an additional administrative step for central authorities by asking them to input data into the system would speed things up. But I can dream!