In this day and age you may be forgiven for thinking that sending formal documents by email, such as a Claim Form (the first step in bringing Court proceedings against another individual or company), is acceptable. Unfortunately, the position is not that straightforward.
In a recent case which came before the Supreme Court, Mr Barton (who was not represented by solicitors) purported to serve a Claim Form on a firm of solicitors by email. The firm had not previously confirmed to Mr Barton that it would accept service by email and, as such, it was deemed that the Claim Form had not been properly served. Unfortunately for Mr Barton, the limitation period (after which he was barred from bringing a claim) expired the next day. As a result, he did not have an opportunity to re-serve the Claim Form using some other method such as the good old-fashioned postal service.
Mr Barton took his case all the way to the Supreme Court alleging that the rules which govern how Court proceedings should be conducted (including the service of documents) are inaccessible and obscure and, therefore, that unrepresented parties should be given some leeway when asked to comply with them. By a majority of 3 to 2 the Supreme Court rejected this argument. The Court confirmed that unrepresented parties should comply with the rules and orders of the Court.
Looking ahead it is likely that, given the pervasive nature of email in our everyday lives, the rules which govern Court procedure will need to be changed to adapt to the reality of modern life. However, for the moment, Mr Barton’s case is a stark reminder that the rules which govern Court proceedings are there to be followed and parties (whether unrepresented or not) would do well to remember that.