Can court proceedings be served on a defendant by email?

Judith Thompson  01-07-2022

A claim can only be served by email if the defendant has expressly agreed to it, as clarified by a recent court  decision. There had been indications recently that this rule might be relaxed, but this new judgment marks a return to the older provisions of Part 6 of the Civil Procedure Rules. 

When a claim is issued, under Part 6 there are very strict rules about how, when and where the claim documents must be brought to the attention of the defendant. This is called service, and if the claimant does not properly serve the claim on the defendant, or if the claim is not served on time, the claim can be held to be invalid.

With the proliferation of emails as the main mode of communication between parties and their solicitors, there could be an assumption that service of a claim by email would be acceptable, but it is not that straightforward. Only if the defendant (or their solicitors) have expressly agreed that the claim can be served electronically, will service of documents by email be permitted. 

In a recent construction dispute, a judge told the claimant that they had not properly served the claim on the defendant. Just before the service deadline, the claimant sent the claim to the defendant's solicitors by email only - the documents were not also sent by post, but they did serve another copy of the claim on the defendant by hand, at a later date. 

The defendant contended that this was not good service and that the claim was not valid. The claimant then asked the court to declare that the service by email was valid, or that they should have an extension of time to include the period during which the proceedings were served by hand. The claimant argued that because the defendant's solicitors had sent them a notice of acting form (confirming that they had been instructed), which included an email address, and because other documents had been served by email, that they were permitted to serve the proceedings by email.  

The judge disagreed and refused to permit the proceedings to be served by email, as the defendant's solicitors had not explicitly indicated, in writing, that the defendant accepted service by email. Including an email address in the notice of acting was simply not enough.  

The judge confirmed that in order to ensure that documents could be served by email, the claimant had to write to the other side asking specifically whether service by email would be accepted. If the defendant said no, it would be up to the claimant to arrange a different method of service. 

If you are dealing with a claim and want to ensure that it is served on your opponent properly, we can help. Our experienced solicitors can ensure that your claim remains valid by having it served properly on your opponent. Contact us today to find out how we can help.  

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