Supreme Court Judgment: Barton v Wright Hassall [2018] UKSC 12


Michael Pooles QC and Henry Bankes-Jones have recently received judgment from the Supreme Court in the case of Barton v Wright Hassall [2018] UKSC 12, in which the Supreme Court once again analysed the rules surrounding service of a Claim Form and the extent of the Court’s jurisdiction to validate service by incorrect means under CPR 6.15(2) following its earlier decision in Abela v Baadarani [2013] 1 WLR 2043.

The case is of particular importance for all those dealing with litigants in person, with the Supreme Court giving helpful guidance on the duties owed by others towards those acting in person, and will be of considerable interest to insurers in this field.

By a majority the Court held that the purported service of a Claim Form by e-mail, when there had been no express agreement from the Defendant’s solicitors permitting service by such means, was both invalid and an error which on the facts of the case should not attract the court’s indulgence under CPR 6.15.

On the topic of the latitude which might be applied to litigants in person, Lord Sumption, giving the majority judgment of the Court stated that,

“Their lack of representation will often justify making allowances in making case management decisions and in conducting hearings. But it will not usually justify applying to litigants in person a lower standard of compliance with rules or orders of the court.”

The conclusion reached by the majority makes clear that litigants in person will be expected to familiarise themselves with the Rules unless they are particularly inaccessible or obscure. The minority also rejected a different standard for litigants in person. However, the need to address the accessibility of the rules for all users was emphasised.

Lord Sumption also emphasised the hazards of leaving service to the last minute:

“None of this would have mattered if Mr Barton had allowed himself time to rectify any mishap. But having 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. A person who courts disaster in this way can have only a very limited claim on the court’s indulgence in an application under CPR rule 6.15(2).”