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Commercial disputes and civil litigation


In recent years a number of Australian business people have been subject to restrictions on their ability to return to Australia as a result of civil and commercial disputes.

You should seek professional legal advice before entering into commercial arrangements overseas and be aware of the differences between local law and Australian law, including any potential personal legal consequences for employees and company officers.

In a number of countries there is potential for commercial disputes and civil litigation to have consequences that are usually reserved for the criminal sphere in Australia and similar jurisdictions.

Commercial and civil disputes can have serious long-term consequencess

Australians in the UAE have in the past been involved in commercial and civil disputes where the local firms or courts have taken possession of their Australian passports, effectively preventing them from leaving the country until the dispute is resolved. In China and Vietnam, some commercial disputes have resulted in Australians being prevented from leaving the country, in some cases for a number of years.

Some commercial disputes have the potential to result in the laying of criminal charges. Business travellers should be aware that in some countries, practices such as bouncing cheques, non-payment of bills, including unpaid court fines, hotel bills, personal loans and local credit cards, are considered fraudulent acts and may result in imprisonment.

In some countries there is no insolvency or bankruptcy mechanism as it exists in Australia, meaning that commercial claims and personal/corporate debts must be settled in full.

Dual nationals

Dual nationals may be denied access to Australian consular services if arrested or detained in some countries.

In recent years a number of Australian dual nationals have become involved in commercial disputes that have resulted in the laying of criminal charges. Be aware that some countries do not recognise dual nationality. This can mean that Australian dual nationals in the country of their other nationality may not be allowed access to Australian consular services if they are arrested or detained.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information on these issues.

In some cases, a decision to enter the country on a travel document other than your Australian passport may be a significant factor in establishing whether you will be allowed access to Australian consular services. You should seek legal advice if you are uncertain about your legal status.

Australian companies increasingly employ staff with multiple nationalities. Businesses should be familiar with what, if any, consular services might be provided to non-Australian nationals by their embassies.

Limits on assistance to Australians involved in business disputes

There are limits on what the Australian Government can do to assist Australians who find themselves in legal difficulty overseas.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.