In order to set a claim under way in the civil courts, it is necessary to serve the claim form on the party named as defendant. The service rules were good fodder for the likes of Dickens or Trollope as they set their tipstaffs in pursuit of the hapless seeking to escape the Marshalsea or similar; things became rather more mundane when society became too populous for personal service.
Service of a writ itself became a redundant term in 1999 when the Woolf reforms brought in the Civil Procedure Rules and spelt out the steps necessary for an action to be commenced.
The permitted methods of service under Part 6 CPR are by personal service, first class post, leaving the document at a specified place, DX, or by fax or “other electronic means”. The last category – which reflects its age by prioritising the fax machine – is only recognised if the other party has agreed to this method of service. Generally, a claim will be considered served, irrespective of whether it actually arrived, only if these rules are followed.
While the rest of the world chatters to itself on social media platforms, the law remains within the stalls of the pre-electronic age.
Until it seems this week, when a court in Toronto allowed an attorney to serve a statement of claim via Instagram. Frustrated in her efforts to find the defendant’s address, Tara Vasdani tried email and various other social media sites for service of a claim on behalf of her insurer clients. When none of these worked she sought permission from the Ontario Superior Court to serve the defendant by private message on Instagram and LinkedIn. As Global Legal Post reports, the court granted legal service five days afterwards.
Perhaps the time has come for the fax machine and email to be wheeled out of the CPR as specific exemptions to the rule of personal and postal service.