• Locard Investigations

'You've Been Served!' - What is Process Serving?

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

What is Process Serving?

There’s a knock at the door. You answer and the stranger asks if you are you. They hand you an envelope and tell you that there is some important legal paperwork inside and that you should probably seek legal advice. With a courteous farewell, they take their leave. What just happened?

You’ve just been visited by a process server who is likely a private investigator, although may just specialise in the delivery of legal documents. Simply put, process serving is the delivery of legal documents to a named individual, group or business entity.

Why are they simply not posted? It sounds like an overly complicated system when there are other seemingly easier options to deliver letters and packages. The thing to understand here is that although the process server has walked away, their job isn’t quite finished yet.

Simply Posting a Document is not enough.

After being satisfied that the recipient was correctly identified and that the documents have been appropriately delivered, the process server will then write a formal statement confirming the delivery and submit that back to the client (usually a lawyer) stating exactly when and where the documents were served upon the intended recipient. This statement can be tendered in evidence, to confirm that the recipient has in fact received the documents and been told what they are. This of course negates any claim that the documents must have been ‘lost in the post’, ‘blown away’ or ‘been eaten by the dog’.

What sort of documents can be personally served? From a simple financial demand to a divorce petition or non-molestation order, a process server could serve hundreds of different types of legal papers issued by a lawyer or the courts. If they are court documents, they might include a Contempt of Court clause, meaning that if the recipient doesn’t follow the instructions contain within, they could be liable to face a hefty fine, imprisonment or both. If you have been served legal papers, it is advisable to read and comply with their directives.

If you're not home, a process server will return.

What if I’m not home? The process server will make several attempts to deliver the documents, however, if unsuccessful, may apply for alternative service meaning that the papers may be posted through the letterbox as long as they are satisfied that the recipient is resident at the address, and it is likely that the documents will be received. The server may also track recipients to their place of work or social hangouts. This is why many process servers are also private investigators.

refusing man
The documents can be laid at your feet

What if I refuse the documents? Do they have to touch me?

If the server is confident that they have correctly identified the recipient it is enough simply to lay the documents at the recipient’s feet and this would be asserted by a judge to have beeen effective service – of course, all of this would be covered in the server’s statement detailing how the service of documents was carried out. For example, a server might approach a recipient who is in their (parked) car. Even though the recipient might refuse to open the door or window, the server can simply place the documents under the windscreen wiper as long as they have a positive identification, and this would be deemed as an effective service of documents. Some documents can simply be affixed to the door of a property in a prominent position – and this too would be deemed to have been served correctly.

man running
Elusive recipients are eventually confronted.

Can I avoid being served?

It is true that some people will go to great lengths to avoid process servers and legal dealings – especially those who have been served before and become cautious and evasive if they know that they are being pursued by the legal system. Simply put, process can be delayed but rarely avoided all together and the situation simply deteriorates the longer that a respondent avoids service. Admittedly, if it’s a small debt that’s being pursued then it may be the case that the claimant simply gives up chasing it as it will cost more than the debt is worth. However, for larger sums or court orders, it is unlikely that it will evaporate, and the process server will continue to attempt delivery until service is completed. Ignoring the situation won't make it simply go away!

Once in motion, the legal process continues.

The process server is rarely the bearer of good news for the recipient, but it is important to understand that they are just the messenger. They have been assigned to deliver papers to a recipient and have nothing else to do with the situation or legal process surrounding the scenario. To that end, they are not there to judge, advise nor solve anyone’s legal problems – simply to help the process to its conclusion by ensuring that all the pertinent information in the case is communicated in a timely fashion.

But, if you ignore that knock on the door, they’ll be back!

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