SERVICE OF THE CLAIM FORM: WHAT CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG? TEN SIMPLE POINTS TO MAKE LIFE EASIER & TO CAP OFF THE BANK HOLIDAY WEEKEND
Service of the claim form remain a major cause of problems. Here we re-cap (not for the first time) on the basic causes of many of the problems, with links through to the many posts on this subject.
This post is caused by a search term which led to this blog “do I have to serve the claim form if I apply to extend time for service of the particulars of claim?”. The blunt answer to that is yes. The most prudent thing to do is to serve the claim form within the four month period no matter what and apply (prior to the time for service) for an extension of time for service of the particulars of claim and other documents. The rules relating to late service of the claim form are very strict. Further there are numerous cases reported on this blog where a claimant’s application for an extension of time has been refused or a without notice application set aside. This appears to be an appropriate time to reiterate 10 basic points in relation to service of the claim form.
1. NOT SERVING THE CLAIM FORM IN TIME
Once proceedings are issued the safest working assumption is that you have the legal equivalent of an unexploded grenade in your filing cabinet. Four months can pass very quickly. A lot of procedural issues arise in those cases when panic has set in at the end of the four month period.
2. DICING WITH PROCEDURAL DEATH: MAKING AN APPLICATION TO EXTEND TIME FOR SERVICE (BUT NOT KNOWING THE RULES ARE TOTALLY RIGOROUS).
An application to extend time for service is often obtained without notice. Orders made on this basis can be set aside (and often are). Obtaining a without notice order to extend time may give a claimant a false sense of security. However the Court of Appeal has made it clear that a claimant cannot rely on that “sense of security” argument if a defendant seeks to set aside the order to extend time. In Hoddinott -v- Persimmon Homes (Wessex) Ltd  EWCA Civ 1203.
The Courts have described the practice of leaving service of the claim form at the last moment, and making applications to extend as “dicing with procedural death”.
3. MAKING AN AGREEMENT (OR OBTAINING AN ORDER) FOR AN EXTENSION OF TIME TO SERVE THE PARTICULARS OF CLAIM BUT FORGETTING TO INCLUDE THE CLAIM FORM (OR FORGETTING TO SERVE THE CLAIM FORM).
This is a more common problem that most would believe. I have seen several cases where claimants have obtained orders to extend the particulars of claim, but forgotten to include the (unserved) claim form in the application. Further this is precisely what happened in Bethell Construction –v- Deloitte & Touche  EWHC (Judge Hodge Q.C.). The claimant agreed an extension of time for service. Served the particulars of claim when the matter did not settle but failed to serve the claim form. The action was struck out, see the discussion of the case on this blog.
4. SERVING AN UNSEALED CLAIM FORM
The claim form that is served has to be the sealed copy to be good service.
There are now several cases where the courts have made an order under CPR 3.10 when an unsealed claim for was served see United Utilities Group PLC -v- Hart (HH Judge Wood, Liverpool County Court, 24th September 2015*), considered in detail here.
5.NOT SERVING AT THE CORRECT ADDRESS
There are detailed rules dealing with where a defendant can be served. Failure to follow these will lead to grief.
For an example see Murrills -v- Berlanda  EWCA Civ 6.
A number of particular problem areas are discussed in the next three points.
6. NOT KNOWING THE RULES FOR SERVING AT THE “LAST KNOWN ADDRESS”
The rules as to “last known address” are complex. The are discussed in the post “Service at last known address: More dangerous points to watch.” In brief:
- An address can never be a “last known address” if the defendant has never lived there.
- A claimant must take “reasonable steps” to ascertain the current address before service can take place at a “last known address” (and there is no definition of “reasonable steps”).
7. SERVING A “PRIVATE” CLAIMANT AT A BUSINESS ADDRESS
Service of an individual, being sued as an individual, caused the claimant to come to grief in Murrills –v- Berlanda  EWCA Civ 6, see the discussion in Service of the claim form: another example of a claimant coming to grief . See also O’Hara -v- McDougal (22/11/2005) CA.
(The claimants brought an action in nuisance against Mr. McDougall the owner of their next door property. They served proceedings on the property causing the nuisance; the defendant did not live at that address and had never resided there.
The Court of Appeal categorically rejected an argument that proper service had taken place because the fact that a property was rented out made it a “place of business”. Even the fact that the rent was collected at the door of the property did not make it a place of business).
8. NOT SERVING AT THE NOMINATED ADDRESS OR ON A SOLICITOR WHO HAS BEEN NOMINATED OR STATED THEY WILL ACCEPT SERVICE
* If a party gives an address for service within the jurisdiction then service must take place at that address.
* If the defendant gives the address for service as the business address of the defendant’s solicitor then, service must take place on the solicitor. Nanglegan -v- Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust  1 WLR 1043, CA. (subject to the exception in the case of a limited company which is discussed below)
* If the solicitor has written stating that they are authorised to accept proceedings then service must take place on that solicitor. Collier –v- Williams  EWCA Civ 20. (again subject to the exception in relation to a limited company).
* However the fact that a solicitor is acting for the party and has written on the defendant’s behalf prior to issue does not mean that authority is inferred. Service on the solicitor without express confirmation of authorisation to accept service is not good service, Smith -v-Probyn and PGA European Tower Ltd  2 All ER 250; Collier –v- Williams op cit.
THE LIMITED COMPANY EXCEPTION
There is an exception, however, in the case of limited companies. Here service can take place under the Companies Act or the Civil Procedure Rules. As a result service can take place at the registered office of the company regardless of whether or not a solicitor has been nominated, Murphy -v- Staples (part of the Bridgefield group of cases)  EWCA Civ 656. Presumably similar principles apply to limited partnerships – however there is no case law on this topic.)
9. FAILING TO SERVE THE PARTICULARS OF CLAIM WITH THE CLAIM FORM
Although normally the Particulars can be served 14 days after service of the claim form the Particulars must be served within the four month period. If a claim form is served at the end of the period then they are served out of time. This caused the claimant to come to grief in Venulum Property Investments Ltd –v- Space Architecture Ltd & 9 others  EWHC 1242 (TCC)
10. NOT HAVING A SYSTEM IN PLACE
A simple checklist can, in most cases, prevent most of the above problems. A good starting point would be.
- Service of proceedings the “essential checklist”.
- Service of proceedings: adding to the essential checklist
WEBINAR 4th JUNE 2020
The issue of extensions of time for the claim form are dealt with in the webinar “Interlocutory Application to the Court: Knowing the Rules and Getting them Right.”, which has a detailed section on applying for extensions of time. Details are available here.