Service of documents - Northern Ireland
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What does the legal term “service of documents” mean in practical terms?Why are there specific rules on the “service of documents”?
Which documents need to be served formally ?
Who is responsible for serving a document ?
How is the document in practice normally served ?
What happens when in exceptional cases service to the addressee himself is not possible (e.g. because he is not at home)?
Is there any written proof that the document has been served?
What happens if something goes wrong and the addressee does not receive the document or the service is effected in violation of the law (e.g. the document is served to a third person)? Can the service of the document nevertheless be valid ( e.g. can violations of the law be remedied) or must a new effort to serve the document be made?
Do I have to pay for the service of a document, and if so, how much ?
1. What does the legal term “service of documents” mean in practical terms?Why are there specific rules on the “service of documents”?
This is a general term for the steps that are required to bring court-related documents to the attention of interested parties.
The main purpose of the rules is to ensure that interested parties are made aware that court proceedings have commenced and are kept informed of developments. Specific time limits are imposed by the rules of court to ensure that there is sufficient opportunity to consider and, if necessary, respond to court-related documents. The time limits also help to maintain the momentum of the litigation process, by ensuring that certain steps are taken within a particular period. The court will usually require proof of service before adjudicating on a case.
2. Which documents need to be served formally ?
Generally speaking, any documents relating to the proceedings, will fall to be served, such as:
- the document initiating the proceedings (e.g. a writ of summons, originating summons or motion, petition, civil bill);
- certain documents while the case is progressing through court (e.g. a memorandum of appearance, a defence, a certificate of readiness); or
- notification of judgment/decree.
In certain civil proceedings, specific documents must be served (for example, in road traffic cases, a notice should be served on the defendant's insurer).
3. Who is responsible for serving a document ?
Ordinarily, the parties are responsible for effecting service, but they have a range of methods at their disposal and some of those methods will involve other people (for example process servers (see below), solicitors, postal staff).
4. How is the document in practice normally served ?
The rules of court set out the general rules relating to service. However, other statutory provisions may establish specific rules for particular cases (for example in relation to service on a body corporate).
Ordinarily, a High Court writ of summons may be served:
- by sending a copy by ordinary pre-paid first class post to the defendant's usual or last known address;
- personally. The server must satisfy himself as to the identity of the person to be served and should then hand the document to him and explain what it is;
- by inserting a copy in the letter box at that address (the copy must be in a sealed envelope addressed to the defendant);
- on a solicitor who returns the original endorsed with a statement that he accepts service on behalf of the defendant;
- in accordance with a contractual term (this may specify who is to be served and where/how service is to be effected);
- if the action is for possession of land, by delivering a copy to the defendant's wife/husband, relative or employee (if apparently over the age of 16) at the defendant's residence or place of business. If the Court is satisfied that no person appears to be in possession of the land and that service cannot otherwise be effected on the defendant, it may authorise service to be effected by fixing a copy of the writ to a conspicuous part of the land;
- if the defendant is a minor, on his parent, guardian or the person with whom he lives;
- if the defendant is a patient, on a person authorised under the mental health legislation or the person with whom he lives;
- on the Crown by ordinary post to, or by leaving it with, an employee or agent of the Crown Solicitor;
- on a company by recorded delivery to its registered office
Any other High Court document that is not required to be served personally may:
- be left at, or posted to, the address of the person to be served;
- be served by fax and following letter, if both parties are represented by solicitors;
- be served by document exchange (DX).
In the county court, except as otherwise directed, a civil bill may be served:
- by a process server. (A process server is appointed for each county court division and he will endorse particulars of service on the original civil bill and return it as soon as possible to the plaintiff's solicitor);
- by a solicitor or member of his staff (over 16 years of age) by ordinary first class post;
- by inserting a copy in the letter box at the address (the copy must be in a sealed envelope addressed to the defendant);
- on a solicitor, if he is authorised to accept service and signs a statement to that effect on the original.
Any other document that is not required to be served personally may:
- be delivered or posted to a solicitor, if the party is acting by a solicitor;
- be served by fax and following letter, if both parties are represented by solicitors; or
- be served by DX.
A writ or civil bill for service outside Northern Ireland cannot be issued without the leave of the court, unless the court has jurisdiction under:
- the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982;
- Council Regulation (EC) No. 44/2001 of 22nd December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters; or
- some other statutory provision.
A number of other requirements must be met (for example, there must be no proceedings on the same cause of action pending in another relevant jurisdiction).
If service is to be effected abroad, it is usually effected in accordance with:
5. What happens when in exceptional cases service to the addressee himself is not possible (e.g. because he is not at home)?
If the rules require a document to be served personally (for example an enforcement or committal civil bill under Article 107 of the Judgments Enforcement (Northern Ireland) Order 1981), an ex parte application can be made asking the court to allow an alternative method of service. For example, the court may order substituted
- by post;
- by advertisement;
- on a friend;
- on a relative;
- on an insurance company.
If a defendant is outside Northern Ireland, the court may order substituted service if it is satisfied that he left for the purpose of avoiding litigation.
6. Is there any written proof that the document has been served?
In the High Court, service may require to be proved by affidavit
- who effected service;
- who was served (reference may be made to a photograph of the recipient or the fact that he confirmed his identity);
- where and how service was effected;
- the day and date of service.
The server should write the service details on the original document.
An affidavit of service by post or by insertion in a letter box must state that it is believed that the document will come to the defendant's knowledge and that it has not been returned undelivered.
In urgent cases service can be proved by oral testimony.
In the county court:
- a process server will attend, produce his record book, which contains details of service and swear an oath that the endorsements of service are correct;
- service by a solicitor is proved by certificate of posting on the face of the civil bill;
In both the High and county courts:
- a document served by first class post is deemed to be served after the seventh business day (although evidence may be called to show that it arrived earlier);
- a FAX sent after 4.00 pm on a business day is deemed to be served the next day;
- a document served by DX is deemed to be served the second business day after it is left in the DX box.
7. What happens if something goes wrong and the addressee does not receive the document or the service is effected in violation of the law (e.g. the document is served to a third person)? Can the service of the document nevertheless be valid ( e.g. can violations of the law be remedied) or must a new effort to serve the document be made?
If a solicitor is not authorised to accept service on the defendant's behalf, all proceedings will be set aside. Otherwise, the judge may declare the service effected sufficient if there is evidence that the defendant actually received the document or there is a technical defect in service. Defective or non-service is also waived if the defendant enters an unconditional appearance.
8. Do I have to pay for the service of a document, and if so, how much ?
Service by post incurs first-class postal costs. For personal service the fees charged by process servers are fixed by statute and the current fee for personal service of a civil bill is £12.
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