Service of a Claim Form is an important legal step. The Claim Form is sent to a defendant in relation to a claim being brought against them.
Over the years, however, I have heard from many defendants who say they never received the court’s Claim Form and therefore the judgment entered against them is deemed ‘not regular’.
Under the Civil Procedure Rules a claimant must take ‘reasonable steps’ to locate a defendant. If a claimant knows that the defendant may not be at their last known address, further action may be required.
The claimant could serve the court papers at the ‘default’ address or via an alternative method.
In a recent case, after repeated failed attempts to serve the court papers at a postal address, the claimant applied to the court to seek an order to serve by an alternative method. Permission of the court was given to serve the Claim Form on an email address previously used to communicate with the defendant.
The defendant argued that service had been defective as the claimant had not taken ‘reasonable steps’ to locate her and should have contacted her via phone or Instagram.
The defendant did not deny having received the email regarding the proceedings but said she was not aware of it until after judgment in default. The master/judge set aside the permission to serve by email on the basis that the claimant should have made further enquiries.
Last week the Court of Appeal considered this case and set out very clearly the current law regarding service.
In essence it said that:
- The court rules do not in fact set out what constitutes ‘reasonable steps’. This would depend on the circumstances of each case.
- The Court of Appeal Judge considered that the master/judge in this case was wrong to find that the claimant should have done more and had overlooked the fact that the claimant had tried to communicate with the defendant by email but had received no reply.
- The email in this case had been received and there was no evidence that it had not been ignored.
- All claimants must make sure that they take all reasonable steps to ensure that the Claim Form is received by the defendant.
- If the claimant does not believe the defendant is at the default address, they must apply to the court for permission to serve the Claim Form by an alternative method, for example, email, What’s App, Instagram or an insertion in the Legal Notices within a local newspaper.
For advice about this or any other dispute or debt recovery matter, please email email@example.com or phone our Stoke-on-Trent office on 01782 205000, our Altrincham team on 0161 929 8494 or our Birmingham office on 0121 516 3025.