Court considers various service issues where claim form was sent to solicitors (not instructed to accept service) for information only

The claimant failed to effect personal service of the claim form on the defendant. Prior to the expiry of the 4 month period for service of the claim form, a photocopy of the claim form (and no response pack) was delivered by post and email to the defendant’s solicitors. However, it was common ground that those solicitors had not been authorised to accept service. The claimant applied under CPR r6.15(2) for an order that “steps already taken to bring the claim form to the attention of the defendant by an alternative method or at an alternative place is good service”.

Although the defendant had argued that CPR r6.15(2) cannot apply where there has been no service (as opposed to misservice), Master McCloud decided the case on a different basis. She held as follows:

1. Service is an objective question and a party who says he is not delivering a claim form by way of service, but for information only, is to be taken at his word. The content of the letter enclosing the claim form is therefore material.

2. Generally, good service requires delivery of a hard copy document, as sealed and issued by the court (unless, for example, service is by fax or email).

3. When considering relief under CPR r6.15(2), it is critical that the form and contents of the claim form has come to the attention of the defendant, but that alone is not enough. CPR r6.15(2) cannot be used where a claim form has been provided expressly for information only (i.e. not for service) (by contrast, a claim form bearing no such statement can be treated as served).

4. Even if the Master was wrong on the points above, the statement that a document is provided “for information only” forms part of all the circumstances as to whether there is good reason for validating service. Various matters can be taken into account when deciding if there is “good reason”: the reason why the claim form could not be served in time, the conduct of the parties, the absence of a Limitation Act time bar and prejudice to the defendant will all be relevant factors. The payment of a further issue fee if a claimant has to re-issue is not a relevant factor. Furthermore, the new form of the overriding objective points towards a more rigorous approach to requiring compliance with the rules.

5. Finally, the use of the word “or” in CPR r6.15(2) does not prevent the Court from validating service where there has been a failure of both method of service and location of service.

So, on the facts of the case, the Master declined to exercise her discretion to grant relief under CPR r6.15(2). Although the claim form had been delivered to the solicitors in order to bring it to the attention of the defendant, that step was not capable of being service because the claimant had elected to state that delivery was “for information”. Alternatively, there was no good reason to allow a claim form which was expressly delivered on that basis to be validated as service after the event: the claimant “should be held to its word and a party should be able to know that when its lawyers receive documents which on their face are not being served, that such can be relied on” (paragraph 73).