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.
Service of a document on your opponent by email is only valid if your opponent has agreed to service by email. 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 early morning of the deadline date. This is not just because there is a cut-off time in the afternoon (after which time documents received are counted as served on the next business day) but also because you need to leave time to hand deliver if, unexpectedly, there are technical problems with email - e.g. if the internet is down.
Note: Even if service of documents by email is not valid, it is good practice to always to send a copy of the document by email as well as serving a copy by a formally valid means (on which see below). This is because if by some accident you are late serving the document by a valid means of service, the fact that you sent the document by email before the deadline, even though not formally valid service, means that a court will (all other things being equal) be more likely to excuse the late formal service.
You can use FAX to formally serve a copy of a document only if your opponent has agreed that FAX can be used for service of documents. If your opponent has agreed to service by FAX, and you want to use this method, it is best to FAX the document no later than early morning of the deadline date.This is not just because there is a cut-off time in the afternoon (after which time documents received are counted as served on the next business day) but also because you need to leave time to hand deliver if, unexpectedly, there are technical problems with FAX such as the line being busy. If you do not have a FAX machine you can use a service such as www.efax.co.uk to send a FAX. Put "please find enclosed [document name] by way of service" on the FAX cover sheet. Keep a copy of the "confirmation of transmission" report.
If neither email nor FAX are valid means of serving (or if email is not valid and you do not have the facility to send a FAX) then you can use hand delivery or, if you have left sufficient time, First Class post.
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 commercial courier 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 because there is a cut-off time in the afternoon after which any document delivered would be counted as served the next day. Make a note of the date and time of delivery and the address you have delivered to and complete a certificate of service - see Evidence of Service below.
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. Make a note of the date of posting and the address you have posted to and complete a certificate of service - see Evidence of Service below.
It is important to know on 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) but if your opponent happens to be away for a day or two, when they return and open the post they will not know exactly when it was delivered. You know when you posted it but you also will not know exactly when it was delivered. 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 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) so if the deadline date is tomorrow you are too late to serve the document by post because even if the document actually arrives tomorrow it is still not counted as being served until the next business day after tomorrow, by which time it will be late.
When sending by post do not use a "signed for" service because if the recipient is out when the postman calls that will delay delivery of the letter perhaps missing the deadline. 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.
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, once you have served a document, it is a good idea to fill in and sign a certificate of service and keep it safe in case it should be needed in future.
This page was lasted updated in March 2017 Disclaimer