A law firm, which bungled the service of a Claim Form, has cost its client the opportunity to have its case heard in court.  The firm may now face a negligence claim because of its failure.

Service of a Claim Form is the first step in starting legal proceedings.  A court is asked to issue a Claim Form which must then be served on the defendant, within four months, under strict rules set out in the Civil Procedure Rules.

To be valid the original sealed document must be delivered to the defendant in person, by first class post, or served on solicitors who are authorised to receive service.

The recent court case of Higgins v ERC Accountants involved the judge being asked to rule on multiple applications concerning the service of a Claim Form. The case itself concerned allegations against the accountant in connection with a tax mitigation scheme.

The solicitor acting for the claimant had arranged for the Claim Form to be issued, but only sent a copy to the defendant’s solicitor.  Later a copy of the ‘Particulars’ of the claim was also sent. However, at no stage did the solicitor check whether the defendant’s solicitor was authorised to receive service, or send written instructions for the defendant to accept service.

His Honour Judge Pelling concluded that the Claim Form had not been properly served, preventing the case from being heard in court.  Whilst the judge did not rule on whether the matter is now statute barred, sufficient time has elapsed that it appears quite possible that the client has lost its opportunity to make a claim.

Serving a Claim Form is a fundamental step in legal proceedings, so it is important that it is done correctly,” said James Burgoyne, Director – Claims & Technical, Brunel Professions. “This case shows just how serious getting it wrong can be.  The claimant has lost the opportunity to have its case heard in court and there is every chance that the law firm will face a professional negligence claim for its procedural failing. All too often claims against professionals result from simple process issues – bad admin if you like – rather than knowledge or skill based errors.”

The case has been reported by law firms Wright Hassall, BC Legal and Clyde & Co.

Brunel Professions is a leading provider of PII insurance broking to the legal profession. To find out more call Jonathan Filer on +44 (0)117 325 0752.