For as long as the Court rules have required claims to be served on a defendant, defendants have tried to evade service so that they don’t have to deal with a claim. The Court rules require someone to have been served with a claim before it can proceed or be dealt with by the Court – so service is a vitally important part of our Court processes. The movie versions of “being served” are often unrealistic but it is true that personal service (i.e. handing Court documents to someone) is a valid means of service in England & Wales.
The rules allow Court documents to be handed to someone or (if they refuse) left with or near them if they have been told what the documents are.
In the recent case of Field v Del Vecchio , the Claimant instructed a process server to effect personal service of an application and order for contempt of Court on the Defendant. There were two attempts: (1) the order was posted through the Defendant's letterbox, after the process server had spoken to him through the door at his property and explained that the order related to proceedings brought by the Claimant; and (2) the process server attempted to hand the contempt application to the Defendant on the street, but it fell onto the floor as the Defendant refused to hold onto it, and the Defendant ran away. The process server then left the document at the front door of the Defendant's property.
The Court decided that personal service had been effected on the basis that the order was left as close to the Defendant as possible (when it was posted through the door) with the process server having just spoken to the Defendant. In addition, the application was left near the defendant as it touched him before falling to the floor.
In essence, it is clear that the Court is sympathetic towards claimants that are faced with particularly evasive defendants and it is prepared to adopt a sensible approach when effecting personal service. There is only so much that a defendant can do to avoid being served and this is a development of the ongoing trend of the Court keeping up with the times and accepting alternative methods of service, such as WhatsApp and even non-fungible tokens.