What does a claimant need to do to serve a claim form “during its period of validity”?

In Jones v Chichester Harbour Conservancy & Ors [2017] EWHC 2270 (QB) Master McCloud considered the issue of what a claimant needs to do in order to serve a claim form during its period of validity. The Claimant in Jones had brought a claim which, by reasons of limitation, had to be served by 1 November 2016. She applied for an extension of time; this was granted by Master Fontaine, by an order which stated that “[t]he date for service of the Claim Form is extended to 17th January 2017”. The claim form was emailed at 4.27pm on 17 January 2017, and a hard copy placed in the DX; the hard copy was received on 18 January. The Defendant had not accepted a willingness to accept service by email.

The Claimant pointed out that CPR r 7.5 simply requires the Claimant to “complete the step required [in the relevant table] before 12.00 midnight on the calendar day four months after the issue of the claim form.” This “relevant step”, for DX and/or first class post, was “[p]osting, leaving with, delivering to or collection by the relevant service provider”.

The Defendant’s argument was that the Order of Master Fontaine said nothing about CPR r 7.5; the effect of the Order was to require that the claim form be served by 17 January; CPR r 6.14 provides for “deemed service”, which is the second business day after completion of the “relevant step”. So for service on 17 January, the document would need ot be placed in the DX by midnight on 13 January.

The judgment itself contains a helpful review of the authorities in this area; the Court takes a purposive approach, and then finds as follows at [38]:

    1. In my judgment:

(1) the correct approach when determining whether, for the purpose of answering the question “was the claim form served during its period of validity?” is to ascertain whether the Claimant has carried out the step required by rule 7.5 within the time provided for doing so. That would apply equally to cases where time for service has been extended by order (as here) and to cases where the basic 4 or 6 month period of validity applies; and

(2) as to the purpose of the ‘deemed date’ provisions in rule 6.14 those have to be given an interpretation which gives them a meaningful function and in my judgment the deeming provisions operate as a means to ensure that it is clear to the parties what date is to be used for the purpose of calculating such things as the date for service of acknowledgement of service or defence.

. . . . and that, I think, is a helpful clarification. What a Claimant needs to do, within the four-month validity period, is to take the “relevant step”. The issue of “deemed service” is a separate issue, and is relevant to calculating dates which come after service of the claim form.

What is the correct approach to contractual interpretation?

In the recent case of Wood v Capita Insurance Services Ltd [2017] UKSC 24  in a commercial context, the Supreme Court has recently issued some helpful commentary on the relationship between two lead authorities – Arnold v Britton & Ors [2015] UKSC 36 and Rainy Sky SA & Orsd v Kookmin Bank [2011] UKSC 50.

Wood started life as a claim for loss arising from (alleged) mis-selling or suspected mis-selling of insurance products in the period before a sale under a SPA was completed. One of the points at issue in the appeal was whether the Court of Appeal had been unduly influenced by a submission that the Supreme Court in Arnold had “rowed back” from the approach set out in Rainy Sky. But, with unusual concision, the Supreme Court in Wood (per Lord Hodge) stated that:

14.              On the approach to contractual interpretation, Rainy Sky and Arnold were saying the same thing.

More detailed guidance is given at [11] and [12] of the judgement, which I’d recommend as a useful reference point for disputes over contractual interpretation – which remains, as in Rainy Sky, a “unitary exercise”, requiring the Court to balance the text and the context. The “iterative approach” set out in In re Sigma Finance Corpn [2010] 1 All ER 571 (at para 10, per Lord Mance) was endorsed: take each suggested interpretation and then check it against the provisions of the contract and its commercial consequences.