Whether special rules apply to litigants in person who fail to comply with the Civil Procedure Rules
In Barton v Wright Hassall LLP , the unrepresented appellant sent a claim form by email to the respondent’s solicitor, stating that it was sent ‘by way of service’. Specific written permission had not been given by the respondent’s solicitor for service by email, and email was not therefore a permitted mode of service. The respondent’s solicitor stated that the claim form had expired, having been unserved.
The appellant pursued two options, the first being an extension of the statutory four-month expiry period for the claim form and the second being that his non-compliant service by email be treated as good service. The appellant appealed decisions that his service should not be validated made at first instance and at the Court of Appeal, appealing to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal after considering whether there was a good reason to declare the non-compliant service of the claim form valid. The Court stated that it was not sufficient that the essence of the rule was satisfied, but that a literal approach should be taken.
The rules relating to service of claims are not obscure or difficult to understand, and persons seeking to issue claims should take care to comply with the rules relating to service. Litigants in person do not attract any special rules or dispensation at the point a claim is served, although this may occasionally be so once a case is underway.
Advice and action for landlords
Reassuringly for landlords, the Barton case confirms that rules relating to service apply to all parties, regardless of representation. Service rules are clear and unambiguous, and in this case it was not permitted for a claim form to be served by email.
Landlords are advised to be cautious of dealing with litigants in person, making good note of claims which are issued, including the dates and method of purported service. Ensure that a clear correspondence trail is in place throughout, and seek early legal advice if you suspect a claim has been invalidly served.
Service rules are clear and unambiguous, and in this case it was not permitted for a claim form to be served by email. The appeal was dismissed.