Serving court papers uk

What Happens if Court Papers Cannot be Served in the UK?

When a legal case proceeds to a court hearing, there is normally a requirement to notify the recipient of the summons and provide details of the hearing – this is known as process serving. Process serving is an integral part of the law and in certain cases, the instigator has a legal obligation to serve official documents.

Process serving is widely documented and you can find a range of articles and information about the job of a process server, but it is not widely known what happens if legal documents cannot be served. What happens if a process server is unable to perform their job? What if they cannot locate the recipient? Does the court hearing still proceed? These are all important questions and the paragraphs below will shed some light on this grey area of law.

Process serving – the standard procedure

Before we look at the worst case scenario, lets recap on how events should pan out in an ideal world. Let’s say you are filing for a divorce against your spouse and you have hired a process server to deliver the divorce documents as you no longer wish to have contact with them. You will provide the process server with as much info as possible and they will then use their skills to locate your spouse and hand them the documents. Once the documents are received, the divorce hearing and process can then continue – everyone is happy.

What Happens if The Serve Can’t Happen?

So the above is the best case scenario – providing that everything goes to plan, that is what should happen and the court proceedings should go without a hitch. Let’s now look at what happens if things don’t go to plan and the court documents cannot be served. You have hired a process server and they have been unable to locate the recipient and deliver the documents – what do you do now? The main option is to use a substitute service. The paragraphs below will outline the different types of substitute service and how they work:

Substituted Service

There are several different types of substitute service available if you cannot serve legal documents directly to the intended recipient. It should be noted that these methods are almost a last resort – they should only be used if you can prove due diligence (i.e. that you have done as much as possible to serve the documents to the intended recipient). You cannot use a substitute service as your primary method of serving and in some cases, a judge may even deny you the opportunity to use such a method. If you or your process server has failed to serve the documents, you must apply to the judge to use one of the following substitute service methods listed below:

Third-party service

– The documents could be served to a close friend, family member, employer or even neighbour. The standard service process applies i.e. the documents have to be physically handed over and proof of delivery obtained. The main difference is that the person being handed the documents then becomes legally responsible for ensuring the recipient receives the documents. It is therefore important to check that the third-party individual has regular contact with the recipient.

Newspaper service

– This is not as reliable but it is still an alternative method that can be used. A judge may allow you to place adverts in local newspapers notifying the recipient of the document service. If you are unaware of their location, you can place an advert in your own local area, or the last known local area the recipient lived. You would need to save a copy of the advert to prove that it has been published.

Social Media service

– This is the least widely accepted method but as time progresses more high court judges should move to accept social media serving as a valid substitute. In short, you may be able to post a notice of service through a social media network such as Facebook or Twitter if you know that the recipient can see it. As with a newspaper service, you must provide proof of your posts.

As you can see, just because you could not deliver the legal documents by hand, that does not mean that all hope is lost. 99% of the time, if documents cannot be served, a substitute service will suffice. Providing you have exercised due diligence* and have done all you can to deliver the documents, the judge will take this into account and the court proceedings will continue.

*Due Diligence is a legal term used to denote the investigation undertaken before legal proceedings or the signing of a contract. If you can show due diligence, you can effectively prove that you have done everything within your power to act within reasonable care.

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Why a professional process server is a necessity

From the above information, it should be clear why the services of a professional process server are beneficial. If you want to avoid spending a great deal of time and energy locating the recipient or trying to create substitute services, a process server is a must. A process server can basically do all of this work for you – all you have to do is provide them with as much information as possible to enable them to serve your documents.

They will then use their investigative skills to track down the recipient and ensure that the documents are served. It is important to remember that this is a process server’s livelihood – they are paid to locate people therefore they have a set of skills that general members of the public do not. Furthermore, they have access to a variety of data and tools that are not freely available.

Writer’s Bio: Lewis Murawski is the Marketing Director at Kahootz Media. He has been ranking websites on the first page of Google for more than 10 years. Connect with Lewis on LinkedIn.


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