Unsealed claim forms were not good service

Court holds that serving unsealed amended claim forms was not good service and refuses relief.

Analysis by our Dispute Resolution specialists at Rooks Rider Solicitors:

In a recent case, Ideal Shopping Direct Ltd & Ors v Mastercard Incorporated & Ors [2021], the Court of Appeal upheld a decision of the High Court that service of unsealed amended claim forms cannot constitute good service.

The original finding of the High Court stated that because the documents were not sealed they were not deemed to be claim forms, meaning no claim form was served within the time permitted. The solicitors for the claimants appealed and requested relief from sanctions under rule 3.10 of the Civil Procedure Rules.

The general rule is that a claim form must be sealed before it can be validly served, and any abrogation would need to be ‘expressly stated’ in the rules or practice directions (which it is not).

In this case, the original sealed claim forms were served within 9 days of the deadline for service. However, the claimants sought to amend their claim and served amended unsealed claim forms out of time. The defendants took the point that serving the unsealed claim forms did not amount to good service.

The Judges agreed with the defendants and said the problem faced by the claimants was not caused by any issue with electronic filing but ‘by…their solicitors’ mistaken belief that service of an unsealed amended claim form would be good service’.

The Judges stated that no good reason had been shown as to why the requirements of proper service should be bypassed.

Points to Note

  • The Judges stated that the claimants and their solicitors could have avoided problems by sending the amended claims forms earlier than the last day of permitted service, seeking an extension of time, serving the original claim forms then the amended forms once they had been sealed, and asking court staff to expedite acceptance.
  • Don’t rely on rule 3.10 to provide relief from sanctions other than as a last resort; pro-active steps should be taken towards the objective.
  • It is always unwise to serve court documents out of time.
  • If you are a claimant, check that your claim form is in order – the correct documents are enclosed with it and it has been sealed by the court.
  • If you are a defendant receiving a claim form, check for any defects in service before you reply, as replying could mean you affirm and acceptance what is otherwise ‘bad’ service.

For further advice on the above, or assistance with litigation, please email lawyers@rooksrider.co.uk and a member of our Rooks Rider Solicitors’ Dispute Resolution team will be in touch.

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Written by Elizabeth Sam, Conveyancing Paralegal in the Real Estate team at Rooks Rider Solicitors….