29th October 2021

The right (and wrong) way to serve court documents

The right (and wrong) way to serve court documents

The right (and wrong) way to serve court documents…

How do you serve court documents? The UK Rules

Serving documents on the other parties of a dispute is a critical early stage in any claim. By serving the documents, this means that the other party has been made fully aware of the details of the claim by receiving all of the papers in the case.

In the UK, the Civil Procedure Rules (“the Rules) tell us how we need to serve documents on other parties in a dispute. The Rules themselves are quite detailed, and differ depending on if you are serving documents on an individual or a company, however generally speaking the Rules tell us that:

  • Documents can be served on someone else in multiple different ways, such as: personally delivering it, sending by first class post or another next day service, or by email or another electronic method of communication (although please note this is not always allowed).
  • If you wish to serve notice for a contractual dispute, your contract will probably dictate where you have to serve notice to (this can occasionally also feature in property contracts too).
  • If you wish to serve documents on a defendant but do not have an address for them, you can serve on an individual by sending the notice to their usual or last known residence.
  • For a Company registered in England and Wales, you can serve documents by sending them to the principal office of the company; or any place of business of the company in England and Wales which has a real connection with the claim (for example, if you have a claim against a supermarket for an accident that happened in one of their stores, you could serve on the supermarket HQ or the individual store where the accident happened).

So how does this relate to Prince Andrew?

In early September 2021, it hit news headlines that lawyers acting for Virginia Giuffe, who has brought the civil claim against Prince Andrew in the United States, had made several attempts to serve court documents on Prince Andrew in the UK. This had concluded with the lawyers handing the documents to a police officer outside Windsor Great Park where Prince Andrew resides. Prince Andrew’s legal team argued that these had not been properly served under either English or international law.

Two hearings were held to consider whether or not service had occurred – one in a US District Court, and one in the High Court in London. Both found that service had not yet occurred, which was what Prince Andrew’s legal team had argued, however also followed by providing Ms Giuffe’s legal team with substantial routes for now legitimately serving the documents on Prince Andrew.

The High Court, London

  • Following the disputed service, Virgina Giuffe’s legal team made a request to the High Court to intervene and assist in handing the documents to Prince Andrew and this was accepted.
  • Master Barbara Fontaine, a senior English judge who oversees requests from foreign courts for help, has authorised officials to begin the process of serving.
  • She had given Prince Andrew’s legal team until Friday 24th September to decide if they will challenge her decision to proceed with serving the papers in the UK.

Manhatten District Court, United States

  • In the US, the District Judge stated: “I can see a lot of legal fees being spent and time being expended and delay, which ultimately may not be terribly productive for anyone.”
  • Following this, Judge Kaplan ruled that “Service on the defendant’s US counsel is reasonably calculated to bring the papers served to the defendant’s attention, regardless of whether his US counsel is ‘authorised’ to accept service on his behalf.”
  • According to new sources as of 21 September 2021, it is claimed that lawyers for Virginia Giuffre have since sent the civil lawsuit to Prince Andrew’s Los Angeles-based lawyer Andrew Brettler by email and FedEx, and both copies had been received by Monday morning.
  • Although the arguments concerning service have prolonged the dispute, it is clear from the above that the pressure is now on Prince Andrew’s legal team as to how they wish to respond. Regardless, the comments from both the UK High Court and the US District Court suggest the claim against Prince Andrew is one step closer to reaching a US courtroom. As of 27 September 2021, it seems that Prince Andrew’s legal team have accepted that documents have now been served, and the case can continue.

Final Thoughts

The issues flagged by the case against Prince Andrew show the importance of following the rules when trying to serve documents on parties in a dispute. In Prince Andrew’s case, because it was arguable that an incorrect procedure was followed, it has resulted in two hearings – one in the High Court in London, and one in a US District Court – which have caused delays to the process and higher costs for both parties. These were only likely to increase should Prince Andrew’s lawyers have appealed following these hearings.

By making sure the service is clear and irrefutable in the initial instance, it forces the court process to move forwards and leaves less room for parties to try and prolong the dispute.

Our Dispute Resolution team has extensive experience with the court process and the correct procedure that needs to be followed during the different stages of your dispute. For further information about service of court documents, or to find out if we can assist you with a dispute, please contact our team on hello@burnetts.co.uk and 01228 552222.