The process of litigation starts with service of documents and, without legal advice, it is precisely at that point where things can go badly wrong. As a guideline High Court ruling in a contract dispute showed, issues as to whether valid service has or has not been achieved can be both legally intricate and decisive.
A building company which was engaged to work on a project by a property developer terminated the contract. Following an adjudication, the developer was directed to pay the company the balance of sums due to it under the contract. The company then issued proceedings to enforce the adjudicator’s award.
A representative of the company took the claim form and other documents to the developer’s registered address, which was also the address that appeared on the contract. However, the address turned out to be that of a dental surgery, the receptionist of which signed a certificate acknowledging service.
The documents were thereafter transmitted from the surgery to the developer. The latter, however, failed to acknowledge service within a time limit set by a judge. That delay resulted in the company successfully applying for a default judgment against the developer. In applying to have that judgment set aside, the developer argued that it had not been validly served with the proceedings.
In rejecting that argument and refusing the developer’s application, however, the Court found that the documents had been left at an appropriate place, in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules. There was evidence that the dental surgery and the developer had a director in common and it could not be said that the documents had been delivered to the wrong address.
The documents had been left on the reception counter, rather than being handed to the receptionist in person. The Court, however, found that valid service would have been achieved even had they been placed unattended on the counter, on the floor or just inside the surgery’s door. It was part of the normal function of a receptionist to accept deliveries and the Court noted that it was a matter for the developer whether it chose to operate two businesses from the same address.