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 (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".

  

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 do this yourself or get a trusted friend or professional process server to deliver for you.  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. If your opponent 
happens to be away for a day or two, when they return and find the post they will not know exactly when it was delivered either.

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. 

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.

Do not use a "signed for" service

Because litigation documents are important most people instinctively think that they ought to send them using a "signed for" service but in fact you should not use a "signed for" service. This is partly for the practical reason that if the recipient is out when the postman calls that will delay delivery of the letter perhaps missing the deadline and, indeed, it might not be delivered at all if it is, after an unsuccessful attempt at delivery, left at the delivery office and the recipient fails to call to collect it. But apart from that practical reason, there are technical rules as to what constitutes valid service and the rule allowing for service by post - CPR 6.26 - requires First Class post (or other service which provides for delivery the next business day) and it could be argued that using a service whereby delivery is dependent upon signature is not a service which provides for delivery the next business day. Much time and money can be spent arguing in court over the technical rules and whether service was or was not valid so it is wise to keep well within the rules to avoid any difficulties, and not use a "signed for " service.

    

Deemed Date of Service

See here for some examples of when a document is deemed served www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/rules/part06/pd_part06a#10.1


Evidence of Service

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 means 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 the exact name and address on the envelope or package - as the certificate of posting itself may only have an abbreviated address) or, if you serve documents by hand delivery, make a note of the date, time and place of delivery and of the recipient’s name written on the envelope/package.  


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 August 2017 Disclaimer