13 March, 2018
Barton (Appellant) v Wright Hassall LLP (Respondent)  UKSC 12
The Supreme Court has confirmed that the rules of service apply to all litigants regardless of whether or not they are represented.
Mr Barton acting as a litigant in person brought a negligence action against the law firm, Wright Hassall LLP. The claim form was issued on 25 February 2013 and the time for its service expired on 25 June 2013. On 24 June, Mr Barton served the claim form by email. Wright Hassall LLP had not stated that they were prepared to accept service by that means. Mr Barton applied for service to be validated under r.6.15(2), but his application was refused. The matter was appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court Ruling
The Court found that Mr Barton made no attempt to serve in accordance with the rules. He should have employed a mode of service which was in accordance with the rules. He issued the claim form at the very end of the limitation period and opted not to have it served by the court, he then made no attempt to serve it himself until the very end of its period of validity.
The Court considered Mr Barton's position as a litigant in person, and found an unrepresented litigant should not be given greater indulgence than his represented opponent. Lord Sumption remarked that unless the rules and practice directions were particularly inaccessible or obscure, it was reasonable to expect a litigant in person to familiarise himself with the rules which applied to any step which he was about to take. The rules as to service were not inaccessible or obscure.
The Court therefore found by a majority of 3 to 2 that there was no reason why the appellant should be absolved from his errors at Wright Hassall's expense and therefore dismissed the appeal.
This is a welcome decision and confirms that litigants in persons should not receive special treatment when determining such issues.
There are a number of issues arising out of this decision, firstly, the Judgment highlights that the rules on service by email need reviewing. Claims are now issued and filed online, and Lord Briggs questioned whether the specific rules on service by email continued to serve a useful purpose and suggested that this was an issue for the Civil Procedure Committee.
Secondly, it has brought the issue of litigants in person and access to justice to the fore. The forthcoming PI reforms will result in an increase in the numbers of self-represented litigants and furthermore, the introduction of an online court is also on the horizon. The government will therefore need to consider re-drawing the CPR to make it more user friendly for all users.