Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why you should show up for court

Some copyright or trademark infringers who are served with court documents from a court system other than that of their own country of residence like to ignore the documents because they figure they cannot be affected by any contempt orders from that country. This strategy of ignorance is not quite as bad as the ignorance used in the Ostrich Defence since at least it does not involve pretending there is no such thing as a law suit, but it is just as stupid for practical reasons.

Many countries allow for a defendant to be found against in their absence with a summary judgement if they decide not to file a defence. In their silence, they are convicted and the court then proceeds to an examination hearing to determine their assets, issuing a summons for them to appear. When the defendant is served with the summons and fails to appear in court on the specified day, the court can issue a warrant for their arrest.

Now, a defendant might not be phased by this, since they figure they just won't ever visit the country where there might have been an arrest warrant issued for them for failing to appear in court, or be convicted of and sentenced in their absence to contempt of court. It is stupid to become a fugitive, though, for a few reasons.

Warrants tend to stay in a nation's criminal system indefinitely. This means that even if a defendant doesn't care that they are threatened with arrest now, if their plans in the future change and they have to go live in or visit that country, they risk being arrested on arrival.

Additionally, even if someone does not want to visit a foreign country ever in their lifetime, they might still be subject to arrest while travelling to other countries. For example, the European Union has a shared criminal information system. This means that if the United Kingdom issues a warrant for an Australian who subsequently visits France, that person might be arrested in France and deported to the United Kingdom.

There is also the issue of your own government enforcing foreign judgements. It is not uncommon for two or more countries to enter a treaty to enforce each others' judgements in their respective courts. For example, a Canadian who ignores an American court resulting in a summary judgement in the plaintiff's favour might suddenly find that an enforcement order has been filed in a local Canadian court to seize their assets. Failing to attend a local hearing makes for much more imminent arrest warrants than a foreign one, and the plaintiff ends up getting more money than if the defendant had simply settled for a lower number of damages.

For a variety of reasons, ignoring a law suit simply because it's in another country is not a wise choice to make. It is better to consult with a qualified legal professional and have them make a good defence or negotiate favourable settlement terms than it is to thumb one's nose at a foreign judicial system.

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