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Serving court documents by email

Two cases at the end of last year have clarified the rules around service of court documents by email.

Court documents can be validly served by email, providing the receiving party has indicated in writing that this is acceptable. The relevant rules are set out in Practice Direction 6A of the Civil Procedure Rules.

A decision in the Administrative Court in October 2022 caused some concern amongst practitioners when it was held that service of a claim form by email was valid only if the recipient nominated a single email address rather than multiple addresses. In that case (R (Tax Returned Ltd & Ors v Commissioners for HMRC [2022] EWHC 2515 (Admin)), the receiving party had provided two email addresses, so service of the claim form was ineffective.

Two months later, in in the case of Entertainment One UK Ltd & Anor v Sconnect Co Ltd & Ors [2022] EWHC 3295 (Ch), the opposite conclusion was reached. This decision from the High Court’s Chancery Division was that service of the claim form was valid even though the defendants’ solicitors had provided more than one email address.

The confusion caused by these two cases was noted by the Civil Procedure Rules Committee and an amendment made to the rules to clarify the position. The amendment came into force on 6 April 2023 and confirms that, as per the decision in Entertainment One UK, multiple email addresses can be provided. However, where multiple email addresses are provided by the receiving party, service will be effective when the document is sent to any two of the email addresses.

As the judge in Entertainment One UK noted, providing more than one email address for service is often a sensible option, in case one recipient isn’t working or is unavoidably unable to access their emails, or one email address just doesn’t work on the day.

The other issue considered in Entertainment One UK was whether serving parties had to check for any limitations on what recipients could receive by email before service could validly be effected. The judge again took a pragmatic approach, concluding that unless a solicitor stated at the outset that there were limitations, it was fair to assume that there were none.

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