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You’ve Been Served!

On His Majesty’s (Dispute Re) Service

There has been widespread reporting of the dispute between the legal teams for Prince Andrew and his accuser, Virginia Giuffre, as to whether or not legal proceedings have been properly served, and social media has been awash with comments and, to some extent, criticisms of the Prince and his legal team with many commenters suggesting that the Prince’s legal team are ‘playing games’ or using a ‘technicality’ to string matters out.

Of course, the court action between Ms Giuffre and the Prince is proceeding under the laws of the State of New York so we are unable to comment on whether service has been effected under the New York legal system. What we can do is give an insight of the law regarding service of proceedings in England and Wales which may indicate why the Prince (no doubt on advice) is disputing whether proceedings have been served.

The Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (“CPR”) (which govern court proceedings in England and Wales) provide that a claim has to served on a Defendant within 4 months of the date the claim was issued, or 6 months after the date of issue for claims to be served outside England and Wales.

If a Claimant fails to serve the Court papers within that timescale the claim expires and the proceedings are at an end. Whilst the Court can grant an extension of time for the period of serving proceedings there have been numerous instances where the decision to grant an extension has been overturned on appeal.

When a claim has expired the Claimant may have the opportunity to commence a fresh claim, but that will require paying the requisite Court fee (which can be as much as £10,000) for a second time which, understandably, the Claimant is unlikely to want to do. However, if the limitation period has expired since the original claim was issued, the Claimant may be prevented from pursuing a claim at all.

It is unlikely that Prince Andrew and his legal team are simply using a technicality or playing games. There is no obligation on a Defendant to offer themselves up to be served with proceedings. If New York laws have similar provisions regarding the timescale for service of proceedings to those in the CPR that may explain why the Prince’s legal team are disputing that service has been affected – the claim may expire without any further action being required and without having to take part in lengthy, costly and stressful litigation under the watchful eye of the world’s media.

If you are wanting to pursue a claim it is crucial that the Court papers are served on the Defendant in accordance with the provisions of the CPR and within the strict timescales provided for, as the consequences of failing to effect service are severe. The provisions in the CPR that deal with the service of proceedings and documents is the lengthiest part of the CPR, and the rules are complex.

Therefore before embarking on proceedings it is essential that you obtain advice as to how and where service can be effected.