A recent case involving a Russian businessman and his chauffeured car has given some useful guidance as to what constitutes personal service under the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”).
When do you have to personally serve a document?
When you are issuing a claim, you need to make sure that the claim form is validly served on the prospective defendant in accordance with CPR. One of the approved ways of serving a claim form is “personal service”. Where the defendant is an individual, the claim form is served personally by “leaving it with that individual”.
What happened in Gorbachev v Guriev?
In this case, the claimant instructed a process server to serve the claim form on the defendant who was a Russian national. The process server approached the defendant as he was exiting the Mayfair Hotel on Berkeley Street in London and tried to hand him the claim form. The process server specifically informed the defendant that the documentation included “very important legal papers”.
The defendant refused to accept the documentation, and his associates stepped in to create distance between the defendant and the process server. The process server made numerous attempts to hand the claim form to the defendant, but he refused to accept it.
Eventually, the defendant got into his car and was driven away by a chauffeur. Before the defendant’s car drove off, the process server placed the documents on the ground next to the car. The key question from a legal perspective was whether this constituted valid service.
What did the Court have to consider?
The Court had to determine whether:-
- The defendant knew that the process server was trying to serve documents on him; and
- The process server had left the papers sufficiently near to the defendant so that it could be said the papers were “left” with him.
What did the parties say?
The claimant argued that there had been good personal service of the claim form. In contrast, the defendant claimed that his knowledge of English was poor and that he was unaware that he was being served with legal documents.
After reviewing the video footage and evidence provided by both parties, the Court held that the claim form had been validly served on the defendant. Whilst the Court acknowledged that the defendant’s English may be limited, the fact that the defendant’s associates tried to prevent the process server from getting close to the defendant indicated that there was some awareness as to the nature of the documents.
The Court found that the defendant had been deliberately obstructive and that the process server got as close to the defendant as he could have been reasonably expected to do so.
This case illustrates the complex nature of personal service. We would therefore always recommend that you take legal advice before issuing a claim to ensure that any attempts to serve documents are valid. We work closely with agents across the UK and have experience in instructing process servers to serve documents in difficult situations.
In circumstances where it is anticipated that the defendant might refuse service, we would normally:-
- Make enquiries of the process server and see whether than can record the service attempt (video and audio)
- Ask the process server to make it clear to the defendant exactly what document(s) are being served on them
- Clearly mark the documents so that they are identified as important legal documents.