The High Court attempted to bring much needed clarity in relation to the issue of service of a claim form in the decision of Jones v Chichester Harbour Conservator  EWHC 2270.
A claim form in personal injury proceedings was issued by the Claimant on 1st July 2016. Prior to the four month deadline for service, the Claimant successfully applied for an extension of time providing that service of the claim form take place by 17th January 2017. On that date, the Claimant emailed a copy of the claim form to the Defendant and dispatched by post; such being received by the Defendant on 18th January 2017.
The Defendant had not confirmed that it was willing to accept service by email. As such, the issue was whether, by sending the claim form by first class post on 17th January 2017, valid service occurred.
The Defendant argued the claim form ought to have been posted (or some other means of valid service) by 13th January 2017 (14th/15th being the weekend) in order to be validly served by 17th January 2017. The Defendant relied upon the High Court decision in Brightside Group Ltd and Others v RSM UK Audit LLP  EWHC 6 and CPR r.6.14, which states:
"A claim form served within the United Kingdom in accordance with this Part is deemed to be served on the second business day [our emphasis] after completion of the relevant step under rule 7.5(1)".
The Claimant argued that all that was required to effect valid service was to take the "relevant step" prior to midnight on 17th January 2017; in this instance placing the claim form in the postal system. The Claimant relied upon CPR r.7.5 which states:
"Where a claim form is served within the jurisdiction, the claimant must complete the step required by the following table in relation to the particular method chosen [in this case by first class post], before 12.00 midnight on the calendar day four months after the issue of the claim form" [this date being extended by the Claimant's application pursuant to CPR r. 7.6(1)].
Master McCloud found in favour of the Claimant and determined that the claim form had been validly served.
She considered that the correct approach in deciding the validity of service was to ascertain whether the "relevant step" had been taken pursuant to CPR r.7.5. In relation to the seemingly conflicting provision of CPR r.6.14, Master McCloud indicated that this rule was for the assistance of defendants in being able to calculate date of service and dates for when they had to respond to the proceedings.
The Court was of the view that Brightside was of limited assistance, in that it concerned CPR r. 7.7 as opposed to r. 7.5. Master McCloud accepted that the decision in Brightside was "challenging in some respects".
The High Court accepted that there was an "unfortunate tension" between CPR r. 7.5 and r. 6.14. Until such time that there is Court of Appeal (or higher court) authority on the issue of service, we consider that the safest course for practitioners would be to not leave service until the last moment, but to afford sufficient time to serve the claim by taking a "relevant step" as per CPR r.6.14 i.e. following Brightside, before the deadline for service to avoid any argument.