Any fan of Harry Potter will already be aware that ignoring letters and hoping the problem will go away doesn’t work, and will only lead to a nights’ stay in a damp cabin in the middle of the sea, and a half-giant smashing down your front door. Well, maybe not always those exact consequences, but it’s still not a good idea.
And yet, all too often defendants to litigation (who have clearly never read Harry Potter) try to avoid the problem by not opening or returning the post. I think the idea is that if you don’t know you’ve been served with proceedings, then technically you haven’t. Sort of the equivalent of young children “hiding” by covering their own eyes.
Unfortunately, due to the “deemed service” rules, proceedings can be validly served on you, even if you’ve never seen them, opened them, or even sent them back as “return to sender”
What is service?
So what are these pesky rules? In general, according to the glossary to the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”), service means "Steps required by rules of court to bring documents used in court proceedings to a person's attention". Depending on the document the rules can vary, so we’re going to focus on the claim form.
The rules on service are generally set out in Rule 6 to the CPR which sets out valid methods of service, as well as the deemed service rules referred to above. Valid service is an important matter for all parties to litigation. For claimants, the court will have little sympathy if you fail to serve your proceedings properly, and the consequences can be severe, including the court refusing to allow you to bring your claim if it is not served in time. For defendants, it is important to know if and when you have been served with documents as it impacts the time you have to respond to those documents.
What are valid methods of service?
For the claim form, valid methods of service include:
first class post or posting with another provider who provides for delivery on the next business day;
delivering or leaving the document at the relevant place - for an individual defendant, this is usually their home address;
personal service - in the case of an individual this means handing it to that individual; and
What is deemed service?
Deemed service is the point at which a document is treated as being served on the person it has been sent to. Exactly when this occurs depends on the method of service used but, for example, when serving by first class post, deemed service occurs on the second business day after posting. This means that even if the person did not see the document on that day (e.g. if they were on holiday or just did not open their post), the court will deem that it was delivered to them on that date.
Why is deemed service important?
In order to keep litigation on track, and prevent the courts having to make orders in respect of every tiny procedural matter (which would be hugely time consuming and expensive), the CPR sets out a number of timeframes in which parties must carry out certain actions. Those timescales often run from the deemed date of service. For example, a defendant usually has 14 days to acknowledge a claim made against them and indicate if they intend to defend it.
Why shouldn’t you ignore a claim form?
The timescales the court set in place are required in order to keep litigation on track. Missing deadlines in litigation can have severe consequences. For example, as set out above a defendant must acknowledge or defend a claim within 14 days of deemed service. If the defendant fails to do so, the CPR allows a claimant to obtain default judgment. In the case of a debt claim, this usually means that the court will issue a judgment requiring the defendant to pay the amount the claimant says is owing, which would be disastrous for the defendant who would have had a good defence to the claim, if only they had responded in time.
I’ve ignored court proceedings and now have a judgment against me, what can I do?
If you’ve made the mistake of ignoring court proceedings, and now have a default judgment against you, you can, in some cases, apply to set this aside. This process can be complex and I would recommend taking specific, tailored advice from a Dispute Resolution Solicitor.
If you take anything away from this article, it should be that it is always easier to deal with litigation in accordance with the rules than the try to correct mistakes, especially ones which can be easily avoided by just opening your post.
If you require assistance with responding to a claim or setting aside a default judgment, please contact Charlotte Braham on 01494 893529.