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As a small business owner, you may find yourself in disagreements with other businesses, suppliers, building owners or even customers. If you cannot resolve those disputes, they may choose to bring legal action against you. If they do, you may find that your business is served (or sent) legal documents. This article explains:

  • how service works;
  • the consequences of service; and
  • what you should do if you are served with legal documents in Queensland.

What is Service?

Service is a legal term for formally delivering legal documents to a person or business. Usually, service notifies a person or business of legal proceedings being commenced against them. There are several different types of service, including:

  1. personal service;
  2. service on a company;
  3. substituted service
  4. service via your lawyer; and
  5. interstate service.

Personal Service

Personal service means that a person, known as a process server, will personally hand you the court documents and ask you to confirm your identity. Even if you refuse to identify yourself or to accept the documents, you can still be personally served. Provided that the process server has reasonable grounds to believe that you are the correct person, they can leave the documents with you. 

As a sole trader or director, you may be personally served in relation to disputes involving your business.

If you receive a telephone call from a process server, it is a good idea to arrange a time to meet with them to receive the documents. You can also ask for the documents to be served on (delivered to) your lawyer (as discussed below). 

Service on a Company

Ordinarily, service on a company can occur by:

  1. leaving the documents at, or posting them to, the company’s registered office; or
  2. personally serving a director of the company.

Substituted Service

If you attempt to avoid service, a court may order for the service to be completed in another manner. For example, this could be by mail or by providing the documents to another person who will bring the documents to your attention. 

Service via a Lawyer

If you have a lawyer, you can authorise them to accept the documents served to you on your behalf. You can also ask the other party to serve your lawyer on your behalf. 

Interstate Service

Court documents can be served anywhere within Australia. If you are served with documents from a different state, you will also receive a form informing you that you have the right to ask to relocate the hearing location in certain circumstances. This commonly occurs if either the other party or your registered office is located in a different state. There is otherwise no significant difference between interstate service and service within the same state.

Can I Refuse or Avoid Service?

Generally, it is a bad idea to refuse to have legal documents served to you. Attempting to avoid service will only result in the other party seeking an alternative means of delivery. Furthermore, this may increase the costs that you may have to pay at the conclusion of the proceedings if you are unsuccessful. 

Consequences of Service

If you have been served with originating process (these are documents commencing legal proceedings such as a statement of claim, originating application, summons or writ), it means that court proceedings have officially begun. You will have to respond appropriately within a certain timeframe. If you fail to respond, you may face serious consequences, including having the court enter a default judgement against you. A default judgement is a judgement handed down against you automatically because you did not respond to service.

There are other documents which you may be served with that will also have serious consequences if ignored. These include statutory demands, bankruptcy notices and subpoenas. 

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have been served with documents commencing legal proceedings, it is a good idea to have a lawyer to assist you in properly responding to the legal proceedings. This is because if you do not properly address the complaint made against you, you run the risk of the other party applying for summary judgement.

If you involve a lawyer early enough, they may be able to assist you in avoiding a lengthy court proceeding by helping you to negotiate a settlement before you incur significant legal costs.  

Key Takeaways

Being served with legal documents means that you have a short time to act before your business faces potentially serious consequences. You will need to respond appropriately before any deadlines expire. You should never try to avoid service or ignore any documents which have been served on you.

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