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What happens when proceedings are issued against you or your company?

Process Agent Court Papers

When a celebrity is served court papers on camera, it always makes for a dramatic news story. Personal presentation of a claim form is the time-honoured way of informing someone that the claim is being made. There can be no denial that proper notice has been given of the claim.

In England and Wales, a claim form can be served in person, by delivering the claim form in person or posting it to the appropriate place, or by e-mail or other electronic transmission. Certain methods of service are only available if the party receiving the claim form has agreed to them, but personal service is always permitted. A claim form can only be served in person within this country. It doesn’t matter how long the individual is in the country, even if it is less than a day, but if the individual is not in the country, special permission has to be requested from the court to serve the claim form “out of the jurisdiction”. The court has discretion to permit service of a claim form abroad but there is no guarantee that permission will be given.  Even if permission is obtained, serving a claim form abroad inevitably causes additional cost and delay, particularly if the documents need to be translated.

What if the “person” involved in the court case is a company rather than an individual?
If the defendant is a company incorporated in England and Wales, the claim form may be served on a director or other senior person, or by leaving it at the company’s registered office.  Similar rules apply to limited liability partnerships.

Many foreign companies have branches in the UK (referred to technically as “UK Establishments”). A claim form can be served at the UK Establishment of a foreign company, but if a foreign company has no UK Establishment, permission will have to be sought from the court to serve the claim form abroad.

It is worth noting that service of a claim form in person on an officer of a foreign company is not permitted, even if the officer is in England at the time.  In November 1976, an attempt was made to serve a writ (the old name for a claim form) personally on the president and director of a Panamanian company that owned a vessel named the “Theodohos”.  A cargo of resin had become damaged during a journey of the Theodohos and the owner of the cargo wished to claim damages against the Panamanian company.  Personal service of the writ on an officer of a company that was not carrying on business within England or Wales was held to be invalid by the Court of Appeal (The Theodohos [1977] 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 428).

More recently, in Hand Held Products Inc v Zebra Technologies Europe Ltd [2022] EWHC 640 (Ch), an American corporation successfully argued that the attempted service of a patent infringement claim at the address of its English subsidiary (crucially it was a subsidiary and therefore a separate legal entity in law, as opposed to being a branch of the US corporation) was not valid and the claimant had to apply for permission to serve the claim form out of the jurisdiction.

Anyone entering into a transaction with an individual who is based abroad or with a foreign company will therefore wish to ensure that a claim form can be served promptly and easily should something go wrong with the transaction.  The most secure way of doing this is to require that party to appoint an agent in this country “for service of process”.  The agent should be a reputable establishment that will not “disappear” for the foreseeable future as litigation may be commenced many years after the transaction is entered into and if the agent no longer exists, the claimant will have no way of serving the claim form in this country.

If a claim form is issued by a court in England and Wales, it can be served on an agent for service of process without difficulty or delay. No translations or other special measures will be required.

The selection of an agent for service of process is an important step for both parties. The party entering into the transaction with the foreign company seeks certainty as to its rights should litigation be needed. The foreign individual or company, on the other hand, will wish to have reassurance that proper notice of any claim will be given so that lawyers can be instructed and the claim can be defended. If a claim form is served and no action is taken, there may be a default judgment against the foreign individual or company, potentially causing substantial losses and reputational harm.

De Pinna LLP is the ideal choice as agent for service of process. We have been providing notarial services in London for over 250 years and have been established as a limited liability partnership since 2018, which means that we are well known and respected in the business community and our details and status are publicly available on the Companies House website.  Highly sensitive commercial information and personal data may be disclosed at the initial stage of appointing an agent for service of process and particularly in the event of a claim form being served.  Our ISO:27001 accreditation for information security provides assurance that this confidential information will be kept safe and secure.

If you would like any further information in relation to what happens when proceedings are issued against you or your company, please contact:

Sara Dodd at saradodd@depinna.co.uk
Iain Ostrowski-Rogers at iainor@depinna.co.uk