The High Court has made yet another attempt to clarify rules around service of claim after a dispute over deadlines in a personal injury case.
Defendant solicitors had attempted to argue that a claimant had missed her opportunity to serve a claim form because it was sent – but not received – before the court-ordered date.
Slater and Gordon, representing a woman injured after falling from a tree, had been given until Tuesday 17 January to serve the claim form, which was emailed at 4.27pm on that date. A hard copy was physically received on 18 January.
Master McCloud said the defendants were effectively seeking to establish ‘dead’ time of one or two days before deadlines for service, during which time the other party could no longer file their claim and expect it to be valid.
The judge acknowledged that this case was the latest attempt to settle issues over service of claim, despite efforts by ‘numerous courts at all levels to prevent them’. McCloud invited submissions involving two other cases yet to be determined to help her judgment.
The basis for discussion concerned CPR 6.14, which states a claim form is deemed to be served on the second business day after completion of the relevant steps. CPR 7.5 then says claimants must post or deliver claims before midnight on the calendar day four months after the issue of the claim form.
In Jones v Chichester Harbour Conservancy & Ors, three defendants, represented by Weightmans, BLM Solicitors and DAC Beachcroft respectively, said the effect of the rules was the claimant had to complete the required steps by Friday 13 January (two business days before the deadline).
The claimant said the defendants had a ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of what a claimant must do to serve a claim form within the valid period. The only requirement, argued the woman’s lawyers, was to complete steps required by midnight on 17 February.
McCloud conceded an ‘unfortunate tension’ exists between different rules but argued that creating a ‘dead period’ at the end of the service period would be against their overall purpose. She said the heading above the rules in 7.5 did no more than act as a ‘pointer’ but was relevant in that it does not say ‘steps required to commence service’.
The judge said rules had been amended to try to ensure claimants knew clearly what steps to take, and it was wrong to ‘reintroduce the snare’ of extra provisions.