“Jurisdiction” is generally thought to mean “territory”, but a recent case shows that it actually has a wider and, in this case, potentially more costly, meaning.

We recently acted for a client who lives in the United States and was served there with a claim issued in the High Court in England.

As is required by the Court rules, the Claim Form was accompanied by a document called a Response Pack, which provides alternative forms for the Defendant to complete depending on whether the Defendant admits or denies the claim.  In this case, the Defendant denied the claim so he completed the Acknowlegdgement of Service form.  This form asks for the Defendant to “tick the appropriate box”.  There are 3 choices:

  1. I intend to defend all of this claim
  2. I intend to defend part of this claim
  3. I intend to contest jurisdiction.

As the Defendant disputed the claim, he ticked box 1 stating “I intend to defend all of this claim”.  He regarded the claim as properly brought in England so he did not consider ticking box 3 “I intend to contest jurisdiction”. He believed that“jurisdiction” referred to “territory” and that box 3 only needed to be ticked if he disputed the fact that the claim was properly brought in England.

What the Defendant did not realise, until many months later when he instructed solicitors, was that (1) under the Court rules a claim must be served within a specified period of time - 4 months from the date of issue of the claim if served in England and Wales or 6 months from the date of issue of the claim if served outisde England and Wales and permission to serve out has been given by the Court; (2) the claim was served on him 3 days late and (3) because the claim was served out of time as well as ticking box 1, he should have ticked box 3 and then, as required under the Court rules, within 14 days have made an application to the court to dispute the jurisdiction of the Court.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of “jurisdiction” includes “adminstration of justice, exercise of judicial authority, a judicial organisation”, as well as “the territory over which such power extends”.  Strictly speaking, perhaps box 3 on the Acknowledgment of Service should read words to the effect “I intend to contest the authority of the English Court over me”.

Following our instruction we made an application to the Court for an Order for, amongst other things:-

  • the Acknowledgement of Service to be deemed to be amended so that box 3 be ticked;
  • an extension of time for the Defendant to file an application to dispute jurisdiction (which should have been filed within 14 days of the date of the Acknowledgment of Service);
  • the Court to hear the Defendant’s application to dispute the Court’s jurisdiction;
  • declarations that the Court has no jurisdiction to hear the claim, the Claim Form was not properly served on the Defendant and service of the Claim Form is set aside.

The Court held that:-

  • The Defendant’s failure to make an application to dispute the Court’s jurisdiction within the specified 14 day time limit is a statutory submission to the Court’s jurisdiction; however, it is necessary to consider whether the Defendant took any steps in the proceedings amounting to a voluntary submission. 
  • Ticking the first box on the Acknowledgement of Service, filling in the box headed “Defence” and waiting 12 months before issuing the application did not amount to a voluntary submission by the Defendant to the Court’s jurisdiction. 
  • Doing nothing after filing the Acknowledgment of Service cannot amount to a voluntary submission to the Court’s jurisdiction.
  • What the Defendant wrote in the box headed “Defence” was not a defence but simply an explanation that he had agreed with the Claimant that all he needed to do was complete an Acknowledgement of Service.
  • Although a year had lapsed between the filing of the Acknowledgement of Service and the making of the Defendant’s application to dispute jurisdiction this case is exceptional and it would be wrong to refuse the requested extension of time simply because of the passage of time.
  • The Defendant’s time for making his application to dispute the Court’s jurisdiction be extended and his application to set aside service of the claim form on him be allowed.

So there are several morals of this story:-

  1. Box 3 on the Acknowledgment of Service form actually means “I intend to contest the authority of the English Court over me” whether the Defendant believes the claim:                                                 
  •  should not have been brought in England and Wales; and/or                        
  • has been served on him out of time.                                                                 
  1. ​If box 3 is ticked then, as stated on the Acknowledgement of Service form, the Defendant must file an application to dispute the jurisdiction the Court within 14 days of the date of filing the Acknowledgement of Service.
  2. If you are served with a claim it is imperative to obtain legal advice urgently because action needs to be taken speedily, whether that is filing the Acknowledgement of Service within 14 days, making an application to dispute jurisdiction of the Court or filing and serving a defence to the claim.

The citation for this case is - American Leisure Group Ltd v Wright and others [2015] EWHC 1905 (Ch).