How to Serve a Document on Your Opponent - under the Civil Procedure Rules

After civil litigation has commenced, an important part of the process of litigation is the sending of formal documents to your opponent (or to your opponent's solicitor if your opponent has engaged a solicitor to conduct the litigation) by deadlines ordered by the court or prescribed by the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR). This is called serving a document.

Because of the importance attached to serving documents, the rules say that only certain ways of serving documents in existing proceedings are valid, as explained below, and the date when service is deemed to have taken place may be later than the date you send or deliver (see here for some examples www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/rules/part06/pd_part06a#10.1) so you should plan to serve in good time before any deadline date.

Note: What follows applies to serving documents in existing proceedings. The rules for serving documents which start proceedings are slightly different.

 

Email

Service of a document on your opponent by email is only valid if your opponent has agreed to service by email and provided a specific email address for that purpose. If your opponent has agreed to service by email, and you want to use this method, it is best to send the document as a PDF attachment by email no later than the morning of the deadline date. There is a cut-off time in the afternoon, after which time documents received are counted as served on the next business day, and the exact cut-off time can vary because there is a long-stop cut-off time provided by the rules but it is common for the specific court order requiring the document to be served to specify a slightly earlier time in the afternoon. Also you need to leave time to hand deliver if, unexpectedly, there are technical problems with email - e.g. if the internet is down. In the body of the email simply say:

Please find attached [document name] by way of service.

Different email systems have different limits on the maximum size of emails which can be received, and the type of documents which a recipient is able to read on their computer system will depend on what software they have. Therefore the court rules - CPR PD 6A 4.2 - require that before you first serve a document using the email address your opponent has given you must ask them whether there are any limitations on their agreement to accept service of documents by email. In fact it is good practice to put at the bottom of every email you send serving documents words such as

Please advise on any limitations on the format of documents you accept as it may be possible to serve documents in a different format. Also please advise of any limitation on the maximum size of attachments you can receive. 

Although good practice, you do not have to put the above words on every email but what you must do, whenever your opponent advises you of a new email address to use for service of documents, is send an initial email (without attachments) saying

We normally send documents in Word or PDF format but may be able to serve in other formats if required. Please advise of any limitations on the format of documents you accept. Also please advise of any limitation on the maximum size of attachments you can receive. 

at least once before you first use that email address for service of documents.

         

Hand Delivery

You can serve the document by hand delivering it to your opponent at the address for service your opponent has given – only service there is valid. You can engage a professional process server to deliver for you or you can do it yourself.  Enclose a covering letter saying 

Please find enclosed [document name] by way of service

If you are going to serve the document by this method, it is best to plan to deliver the document no later than the morning of the deadline date. There is a cut-off time in the afternoon, after which time documents received are counted as served on the next business day, and the exact cut-off time can vary because there is a long-stop cut-off time provided by the rules but it is common for the specific court order requiring the document to be served to specify a slightly earlier time in the afternoon. Also you need to leave time in case you experience unexpected delays travelling to the delivery address.    


Post

Providing you have not left it too late you can use First Class post to serve the document on your opponent. Enclose a covering letter saying

Please find enclosed [document name] by way of service

If you use this method you must post to the address for service of documents which your opponent has given – only service there is valid.

The actual day that a First Class letter will be delivered depends partly on when you post it, what post box you post in it, what the collection time window for that post box is, and exactly when, within that collection time window, the postman happens to do that collection on that particular day. But even if you see the postman do the collection just after you have posted the letter you still do not know for sure that it will be delivered the next working day because, although that is Royal Mail's stated aim, various delays in the postal system do sometimes occur. 
But it is important for everyone to know on exactly what date a document is served in order to know whether it was served by any relevant deadline and also because the person served with the document may have a fixed number of days from the date of service to take some action. Because of the importance of certainty as to the date of service, the court rules – CPR 6.26 – provide that a document sent by First Class post is always counted as having been served two days after posting, or on the next business day if two days after posting is not a business day. This means that the deemed date of service will often be the day before, or the day after, the letter is actually delivered by the postman. 

One consequence of these rules is that if the deadline date is tomorrow it will always be too late for you to serve by post because even if the document actually arrives tomorrow it is still not deemed to be served until the next business day after tomorrow, and so is deemed to be late.

FAQ

Will I have to prove when and by what method I served a document?

When serving documents after the legal process has started (which is what this page is concerned with) you do not normally have to file a certificate of service at court, but you should be prepared for the possibility that some dispute may arise in future over whether or on what date you effected service and whether service was by a valid method, and if a dispute arises you may need then to fill in a certificate of service and/or provide a witness statement, so if you post a document it is a good idea to obtain a certificate of posting from the post office (and write on the back of the certificate of posting a list of the documents contained in the envelope or package and also the exact name and address on the envelope or package - as the certificate of posting itself may only have an abbreviated address) so that if, later on, there is a dispute, you have all the details. If you serve documents by hand delivery, make a note of the what documents were enclosed in the envelope or package and the date, time and place of delivery and of the recipient’s name written on the envelope/package. If you serve by email your email system should automatically retain a copy of the sent email with the date and time of sending.

If you engage a process server to deliver for you, you would normally give the documents to the process server and the process server would put them in an envelope and the process server should automatically provide you with a signed certificate of service once they have carried out service. (You could provide the process server with an addressed envelope but the process server has to see the documents being put in it so that the process server can then fill in and sign a certificate of service which confirms what documents were served where when and how.) 


Are there any other ways of serving documents?   

There are some other ways of serving documents but in ordinary circumstances it is best to stick to the above methods. The reason for this is that there are some grey areas in the rules and if you serve a document in some unusual way you run the risk of the other side challenging the validity of the service. If there is a challenge that may mean an extra court hearing just to determine whether service was valid or not and even if the challenge is not successful and the court decides that what you did is valid, you will have suffered worry, delay and extra costs, so it is best to to stick to the above methods and not to cut corners or do anything in an unusual manner.

For example, following the partial deregulation of postal services, the rules - CPR 6.20 - now say that you can serve by "First class post... or other service which provides for delivery on the next business day"  but exactly what provides for delivery on the next business day means is unclear (is it sufficient if an alternative postal service provider simply aims to deliver on the next business day or do you have to prove that they are always or normally successful in achieving that aim?) so if you decide to use the post it is best to stick to using Royal Mail ordinary First Class post.    
 

Can I use a Royal Mail "signed for" service?

Because litigation documents are important, most people who decide to use the post instinctively think that they ought to send them using a "signed for" service but in fact you should use ordinary First Class post and not use a "signed for" service because this is another grey area. If a "signed for service" is used and nobody answers the door when the postman calls, the envelope or package will not be delivered that day. The postman may automatically try again the next day or may put a card through the letter box inviting the recipient to collect it from the delivery office but, either way, it will not have been delivered on the next business day after posting. For this reason even if the postman is successful on the first attempt  it could be argued that service is invalid on the basis that a "signed for" service, even if classed by Royal Mail, as First Class does not come within the meaning of the words "First class post..or other service which provides for delivery on the next business day"  That is to say, it could be argued that as a service it only provides for attempted delivery on the next business day and that the fact that on this occasion it was successfully delivered the next business day does not make it a valid method of service (just as second class post is invalid as a method of service even if the document sent second class does happen to be delivered on the next business day). 

Can I use a courier? 

This is another grey area and is best avoided. If you use a courier that might count as service by post or it might be counted as hand delivery (on the basis that the courier is your agent carrying out delivery on your behalf) but, even if it is valid service, difficulties may arise if service is disputed and evidence needs to be provided. This is because normally if evidence is needed a certificate of service will be filled in and a certificate of service is designed to be filled in and signed by a single individual who has personal knowledge of what is written on the certificate. If you use a courier you will know what documents you put in the package which the courier collected but you will not have personal knowledge of delivery. The courier will have personal knowledge of when and where the package was delivered but will not have personal knowledge of what documents it contained. So normally no single person will have all the personal knowledge necessary to complete and sign the certificate of service.

Can I ask a friend to deliver for me?

The same problems can arise as with a courier so this is best avoided. Service might be valid (on the basis that the friend is delivering as your agent) but there can be difficulties providing evidence of service if it is disputed. 

NOTE: This article is about how to serve a document on another party to the proceedings only. For information about filing the document at the court office (where that is required) see here.

Disclaimer

The information on this page about specific computer techniques is provided for information purposes only. Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate and up to date at the time it was written but no responsibility for its accuracy, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by me. You should satisfy yourself, before using any of the techniques, software or services described, that the techniques are appropriate for your purposes and that the software or service is reliable.

This information page is designed to be used only by clients of John Antell who have entered into an agreement for the provision of legal services. The information in it is necessarily of a general nature and is intended to be used only in conjunction with specific advice to the individual client about the individual case. This information page should not be used by, or relied on, by anyone else.

This page was lasted updated in October 2017 Disclaimer