Process Serving – practicalities and common mistakes

Process serving is when legal documents, giving notice of a specific court action, are delivered to a respondent or defendant in cases where personal service is required. It has two purposes in most cases: to allow the respondent/defendant a reasonable amount of time to respond to the notice before proceedings take place, and to make sure any court orders are formally brought to their attention, such as enforcement and eviction notices.

The benefits of instructing a process server are that it cuts out the time and effort that would otherwise be spent serving the documents yourself. Process servers are experts, which makes them best placed to deal with more difficult or elusive people. They are also distanced from the case, which means respondents/defendants are more likely to respond in kind to a process server than if the claimant him or herself turned up at their door to serve the documents.

Process servers will sometimes do investigations to try and track down an elusive respondent, such as making enquiries with neighbours, and will often make several attempts to complete service.

court paper process serving
Photo by Michael D Beckwith(Flickr) is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How do I instruct a process server?

Instructing a process server or process agent is quite simple. Often you can instruct one by email, but you will need to provide original copies of the documents by post or collection. Some process servers will offer to collect documents from you; others will ask you to DX the documents to them, which is a generally faster form of postage. What we mean by originals is that they are either copies of the papers with fresh signatures, rather than photocopied signatures, or they are the copies provided by the court, each with their own fresh court seal.

The papers will determine how many copies will need to be served on the defendant/respondent, but once the process server has the papers, that will be up to them. They will usually prepare and send to you a statement of service, certificate of service or affidavit to prove that service has been completed (though what type of proof is needed is dictated by what the documents are).

What documents does a process server serve?

Process servers will serve virtually any document that needs to be delivered in cases where personal service and proof of service are required. These documents include statutory demands for unpaid debts, witness summons, notices seeking possession, possession orders, non-molestation orders, divorce and bankruptcy petitions and orders issued under the Children’s Act. Sometimes process servers are required to serve documents on more than one person at the same or multiple addresses.

A common mistake

A common mistake than applicants or claimants make is telling the respondent or defendant that a process server is about to serve them with a court order. This often leads respondents to avoid being served, either by not answering their door or not coming in to work, and makes the process much more difficult for the person serving.

You’d think that not telling the respondent about the impending service of documents would be obvious, but unfortunately it happens quite often. Sometimes it’s because claimants impulsively tell respondents that they’ve ‘won’ by getting the application or order they wanted, not realising that service is equally as important as actually getting the order – if not more important. Orders and applications can be set aside if service hasn’t been completed properly. Not telling the respondent that they are about to be served generally makes the process quicker, smoother and will save you any unforeseen costs.

Where can I find a process server?

There are hundreds of process servers in London and in the rest of the UK. UK process servers are not currently regulated or certified, so it is important to choose your process server wisely and check how much experience they have in the industry. Some process agents will concentrate solely on serving legal documents; others will undertake other private investigation work, such as tracing, tracking, background checks and surveillance.

Global Investigations falls into the latter category, offering a range of private investigation services, including process serving in the UK and overseas. The downside of just being a process server is that while some will conduct minor enquiries to try and find elusive respondents, most will not go further than that. At Global Investigations, we are experienced tracers and find that there is an increasing demand for traces when process serving services are requested. Service is carried out by only contracted, pre-screened and fully qualified process servers. Three attempts to serve are made in each case, and we are also able to arrange collection of your documents.

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