Covid-19 has undoubtedly put the adaptability and creative thinking of litigators to the test. Apart from an increased reliance on remote court hearings, the pandemic has also sparked a conversation around the adequacy and practical application of many parts of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR). As a top litigation law firm in London, we would like to share our practical tips in navigating the rules for filing and service from two very different case management perspectives: the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court and the County Court Money Claims Centre (CCMCC).
- Deadlines: This should be an obvious point but can be easily overlooked. If possible, filing should not be left until the last minute whether by CE-file or an application by email to the CCMCC. Just when you have finalised all the papers and are ready to file the perfect e-bundle, Murphy’s law dictates that it may well be scuppered by a sudden internet connection failure, planned maintenance of e-filing (notice boards should be checked regularly prior to any planned filings!) or a frozen computer screen. Telephone customer service support might not be available to help either.
- And More Deadlines: If the particulars of claim cannot be served together with the claim form, remember the hidden trap for the unwary in rule in CPR 7.4(2) – the particulars will have to be served before the claim form expiry date, four months after the date of issue.
- Contingencies: If a client is expecting a claim to be served on them and its office is running a skeletal staff or is closed, they should be advised to arrange appropriate monitoring of post delivered to their office. Some claimants serving on a company’s registered address may apply for a judgment in default if court papers have not been seen. An application to set aside a judgment in default might be successful, but it is better to save costs at the outset and think practically. Similarly, both clients and their legal teams should be checking their junk folder regularly for any emails purporting electronic service.
- Filing requirements: Know your filing limits and read the applicable filing and e-bundle guidelines carefully to avoid any rejected filings or delays in having your papers processed by the court. Be mindful of the megabyte limits on emails, file size, page number and formatting restrictions.
- Method for service: This depends on multiple legal and practical factors and it should be carefully planned. Although electronic service via email seems like an obvious choice in the current environment, do not take it for granted and make sure you obtain the recipient’s consent in good time (especially if a claim form is about to expire) including that of any legal representatives. If postal service is the preferred option, consider if the defendant has specified any address for service. If not, be mindful of the cascading test on the “last known address” rules.
- Manage expectations: This is particularly relevant for the CCMCC where response time is slower than usual, and it is important that the client is made aware of the longer processing times.
- Customer service: Longer waiting times for court customer service are to be expected. You should avoid telephone inquiries unless absolutely necessary as the court staff, who were stretched before, are often overwhelmed now. If you have a specific extension number, that might be a preferable option.
- Records: Another overlooked, common-sense point is to keep proof of filing and service, whether in the form of e-receipts, autogenerated read, delivery receipts, email trails or proof of postage. This is particularly important in the current climate of delay and uncertainty.
With advanced preparation and prompt planning, the difficulties posed by the pandemic are certainly not insurmountable. This is an opportunity for all practitioners to generate and adopt more efficient procedures and risk-responses, which they can then carry over into more normal times.