People often ask us if court documents can be served by email – especially as email has become a more common and reliable form of communication for everyone. 

The COVID-19 pandemic arriving in 2020 meant that the entire legal system had to make swift and concise changes to acceptable methods of correspondence. 

The postal system became less reliable and delayed, but email and similar electronic communications remained prompt and dependable, and it was a system which almost everybody already used for most day-to-day communication. 

What adaptations have been made to accommodate electronic communication? And when can court documents be served by email?

Can matrimonial applications be served by email?

The Family Procedure Rules 2010 (FPR) set out what is acceptable to the courts when it comes to electronic communication methods, including email. 

Part 6.7A FPR clarifies that email is an acceptable form to ‘serve’ court applications relating to a matrimonial order, but this is subject to the person being served agreeing to being served by email, or the documents being sent to their usual email address. 

Practice Direction (PD) 6A, which accompanies the FPR, clarifies that a ‘usual’ email address would be the address which is actively used by the receiving party for personal emails. Once service has taken place, a notice confirming that the documents have been emailed should also be posted to the receiver’s postal address. 

Other documents

The rules are similar when serving any documents which are not a matrimonial application. Email is acceptable, but such service must comply with PD6A. There has to have been clear communication from the receiver of the documents that they are willing to accept service by email. 

This would either need to be a stand-alone communication, or a clear statement on, say, the letterhead of a law firm that they will accept service at their email address. 

Alternatively, if an email address has been provided on a ‘statement of case’ or an answer to an application by the party being served, then this is sufficient. 

Care should also be taken to confirm that the email address for service can accept the type of document being sent. So, for example, confirm whether there are any file-size limitations for the email address or whether certain file types will not be receivable by the email address.

Day-to-day correspondence by email

Since the pandemic, almost all day-to-day correspondence is now carried out by email, to the convenience of almost everyone. Whilst this is not strictly governed by any legal framework, one should always remember that emails are treated in the same way a letter would be. Therefore, the content of emails should be set out in a similar format and following norms and customs, which would be expected of any other formal written correspondence. 

Similarly to the formal court rules, it should be established early on, as a matter of good practice, that email is an acceptable form of communication for the receiving party to use.

Serving court documents by email in other types of case

There are special rules which also apply to serving documents in adoption proceedings or parental order proceedings, but these are outside the scope of this article.

How can Watson Morris assist you?

Knowing what documents to send where, when and how in a divorce and other court proceedings is not always clear if you are not legally trained, but we can help you. 

Here at Watson Morris, our lawyers know the procedures to follow to progress divorce proceedings to the swiftest possible conclusion. If you need help, please contact us to arrange a no-obligation initial free appointment.

Written by Greg Bowyer

September 22, 2023

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