Jones -v- Chichester Harbour Conservancy [2017] EWHC 2270

On 12 September 2017 Master McCloud gave judgment in the case of Jones -v- Chichester Harbour Conservancy in respect of the rules governing service of a Claim Form. This case concerned a claim for personal injury whereby the Claim Form was issued within expiry of the limitation period but was subject to an extension of time for service. The deadline for service of the Claim Form was extended to 17 January 2017. At 4:27 p.m. on 17 January 2017 the Claimant's solicitor emailed a copy of the Claim Form to the Defendant’s solicitor and placed a hard copy in the first class post. The hard sealed copy of the Claim Form was received by the Defendant's solicitor on 18 January 2017. The Defendant had not indicated a willingness to accept service by email. Therefore, the question to be determined by Master McCloud was whether the Claim Form had been served during the period of its validity.

This case concerns the well-known tension between CPR 6.14 which states a Claim Form will be deemed to be served on the second business day after completion of the relevant step under rule 7.5, and CPR 7.5 which states a claimant must complete the relevant step to serve the Claim Form before midnight on the calendar day 4 months after issue of the Claim Form.

In what can only be described as a common sense decision, applying the purpose behind CPR 7.5, and providing a judgment that will give much needed clarity to practitioners, the Master noted that CPR 7.5(1) is a special case – a standalone provision. It is a rule that exists in its current form to provide a clear statement to a claimant as to what he must do within 4 months to ensure service of the Claim Form is valid. It does not alter the role of "deemed date of service" for purposes outside of CPR 7.5. To impose upon a claimant the need to factor in the deemed service provisions would have the result, in the Master’s judgment, of creating a dead period of a day or two at the end of the period of validity of the Claim Form during which the Claim Form could not validly be served by any of the methods in CPR 6.17 which have deemed dates of service after expiry of the Claim Form.

In giving judgment Master McCloud stated

"the correct approach when determining whether, for the purpose of answering the question "was the Claim Form served during its period of validity?" is to ascertain whether the Claimant has carried out the steps required by rule 7.5 within the time provided for doing so. That would apply equally to cases where time for service has been extended by order (as here) and to cases where the basic 4 or 6 month period of validity applies."

This is not only a welcome decision but goes some way to clarify what is a heavily litigated and complex part of the Civil Procedure Rules. Decisions such as this, which give clarity and simplify the rules surrounding service of a Claim Form, are to be welcomed and encouraged in future. However, I suspect that this issue will be the subject of future litigation because the decision in Jones conflicts with the first instance decision in Brightside Group Ltd -v- RSM UK Audit LLP, also a 2017 case. It is only a matter of time before this issue is considered by the Court of Appeal.