Oh Andrew, where art thou?

A New York judge has recently ruled that legal papers in a sexual assault case against Prince Andrew can be legally served on the Prince’s US lawyer.

Although the claim against Prince Andrew is being brought in New York, there are lessons to be learnt about the importance of service, and how complex it can be.

Once a claim has been issued by a Court, the Claimant is almost always required to serve a copy of the claim form on the Defendant. By serving the claim form on the Defendant, the Claimant brings the claim to their attention and makes them aware of the allegations made against them.

In England and Wales, the Civil Procedure Rules (the “Rules”) specify the rules regarding service of both the claim form and particulars of claim, and other documents. The Rules set out permissible methods of service, timeframes in which certain documents must be served and addresses to which documents must be sent.

In certain circumstances the Court may serve the documents on the Defendant, but when the Claimant is serving, one of the prescribed methods of service permitted by the Rules must be used. Generally, a Claimant can serve proceedings on the Defendant ‘personally’, either by leaving the papers with them if they are an individual, or where the Defendant is a company, leaving the papers with a person holding a senior position in that company. Alternatively, a Claimant is usually permitted to serve proceedings by sending the documents by first class post, fax or another method which may be permitted by the Court (including social media platforms in certain circumstances).

In respect of Prince Andrew, it has been reported that the Claimant sought to serve the Prince personally in the UK but was only able to give the papers to a police officer outside of the main gates of his home in August 2021. This was not valid service in the UK so, given the difficulty in serving the Prince personally, the Claimant’s lawyers attempted to serve via email and emailed the proceedings to every UK solicitor who had represented the Prince in the past. However, the Prince contends that this does not amount to effective service.

Given the dispute surrounding service in the UK, a New York Court was asked to assist, and on Friday 17 September, a Judge ordered that proceedings could be served on the Prince’s US lawyer, a method of service which is not usually permitted unless that lawyer confirms they are authorised by the Defendant to accept service on their behalf. The Court in New York considered that service on the Prince’s US lawyer is ‘reasonably calculated to bring the papers served to the defendant’s attention’ despite the fact they did not agree to accept service.

If service is not executed properly, it is defective. Defective service can cause serious issues for a Claimant and can result in a claim becoming time-barred or being struck out. It is therefore vital that service is carried out properly.

If you require any assistance in issuing or serving proceedings, please contact a member of our Commercial Dispute Resolution team.

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