Serving Documents

Last Reviewed: March 2023 Reviewed by: JES Download

Serving Documents

Once your documents are filed, you must serve the other parties with a stamped copy of those documents. Serving documents has a special meaning. It means you give the documents to the other party according to the rules. Depending on the type of document you need to serve the other parties either by personal service or ordinary service. Failing to follow the right rule can cause issues with your claim and waste time so it is important you make sure you follow the right process. 

Read the Rules

Rules 4-1 to 4-6 Serving documents

Personal Service

Some documents, such as the Notice of Civil Claim and Notice of Petition, which start the proceedings, require more strict rules for service for other documents. This is because the court wants to be absolutely certain that all the parties are aware of the lawsuit. It would not be fair to make an order against someone who had no chance to defend themselves! A full list of documents requiring personal service is listed in Rule 4-3(1).

Personal service means having to have a person physically leave the documents with the person or organization they are serving. You can serve documents yourself or have someone else do this for you. A process server is a professional document server and if you anticipate having trouble reaching a party, you might consider using a process server. Process servers can be found online.

How to serve someone personally

Personal service looks different for different types of other parties. Be sure to read the rules but generally documents must be personally served on the other party, as follows:

  • Individuals: Leave a copy of the document with them
  • Corporations: Leave a copy of the document with the president, chair, or other chief officer of the corporation
  • Other corporations: Leave a copy of the document with the manager, cashier, superintendent, treasurer, secretary, clerk or agent of the corporation or any branch or agency of the corporation in BC
  • Cities and municipalities: Leave a copy with the city clerk or municipal clerk
  • Unincorporated associations: Leave a copy of the document with any officer of the association
  • Trade unions: Leave a copy of the document with any officer of the trade union or with a business agent
  • Government bodies: By following the rules that explain how to serve that body (check the government website or the courthouse library for more complete information)

Read the Rules

Rule 4-3 Personal service

Ordinary Service of Other Documents

In general you can serve other documents (that do not require personal service) in your court case by:

  • Leaving the document at the person’s address for service
  • Mailing the document by ordinary mail to the person’s address for service
  • Sending the document by fax if a fax number is provided as an address of service (see the provisions of Rule 4-2(5), which say when the document can be faxed, depending on its length) or
  • Sending it by email if an email is provided as an address for service

Read the Rules

 Rule 4-2 Ordinary service  

How to Prove That the Documents Were Served

It is important to be able to prove that the party you are suing has been served with the notice of civil claim or petition. Otherwise, the party could deny that they have any knowledge of the claim against them.

Read the Rules

 Rule 4-6 Proving service

If the other party responds to your notice of civil claim or petition by filing a reply, that proves that they were properly served with your court documents. In all other situations, you can prove that you served the documents properly by filing an affidavit of personal service in Form 15.

Find the Form

Form 15 Affidavit of Personal Service

If other court documents were served by ordinary service, you can prove that they were served by filing an affidavit of ordinary service in Form 16. You can also file a requisition in Form 17 and attached a written acknowledgment of receipt, signed by the party or lawyer on whom the document was served. You can find information about filing a requisition in Requisitions.

When Do You Have to Serve the Court Documents?

You must serve the notice of civil claim or petition and supporting affidavits within 12 months of when it was filed in the court registry. If it is not served within 12 months, it will expire and that could be a very serious matter if a limitation period is involved, including the loss of your ability to bring your case to court. So, you could file your notice of civil claim or petition on March 1, 2022 and serve it any time before March 1, 2023.

You might want to delay serving the notice of civil claim or petition as soon as it is filed if, for example, you are close to negotiating a settlement of your claim.

If you cannot serve your notice of civil claim or petition within 12 months, you must apply to the court to extend the time before it expires.

If You Have Problems Serving a Document

There will be times when you have difficulty personally serving a notice of civil claim or petition. The defendant or respondent may be avoiding you or you may not be able to find them after making a diligent search. In this situation, you can get a court order giving you permission to use an alternate method of service. Rule 4-4 sets out the information that you need to consider.

Read the Rules

Rule 4-4 Alternative methods of service

NOTE: These options are not available if you are trying to serve documents in a family law case.

You can get a court order for substituted service, which means that you may be able to mail the document to the person’s last known address, leave it at their home, leave it with another adult at that address, or publish an advertisement in the newspaper (to get an order allowing you to serve through publication, use Form 10).

When you apply to the court for an alternate method of service, you must prepare an affidavit stating:

  • When, how, and where you tried to serve the person, what happened and how many times you tried to serve the document
  • What happened when you tried to serve the person (the following are some examples of teething’s that might happen):
    • There was no answer when you knocked on the door
    • Someone appeared to be at home when you knocked, but wouldn’t come to the door or
    • The house looked deserted

You can find information about preparing an affidavit see Affidavits.)

If the court grants an order for an alternate method of service, you must serve a copy of the entered order permitting that alternate method with the document you are serving, unless the alternate method of service is by newspaper advertisement (Rule 4-4(2)).

Service Outside of British Columbia

If one of the defendants lives outside of British Columbia, Rule 4-5 states that you need to include in your notice of civil claim an endorsement (Form 11), which specifies the circumstances under which service is permitted.

The circumstances under which service outside of BC is allowed are outlined in s. 10 of the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act. In general, you must show that there is a real and substantial connection between BC and the facts of the case. A typical example would be if you were involved in a motor vehicle accident in BC and the defendant resides outside of the province.

You do not need to personally serve the petitioner with your petition response and affidavits. If the address for delivery is the residential or business address of the petitioner and they do not have a lawyer acting on their behalf, you can deliver your document:

  • By leaving the documents with any adult at that address; or if that is not possible
  • By placing the documents into a mailbox or mail slot at that address; or if that is not possible
  • By affixing the documents to a door of the residence or business

You want to be sure that the petitioner gets your petition response and affidavits. The easiest way to do this is to:

  • Attach your documents to a letter (whether you mail, fax, or deliver the document) to the petitioner
  • Include an extra copy of the letter and ask the petitioner to acknowledge receipt on the copy of the letter and return it to you
  • Keep a copy of the letter in your file with the acknowledgment of receipt in case you need it in the future
  • If the other party does not acknowledge receipt of the documents, you will need to file an affidavit of delivery setting out how, when, and where you delivered the documents

For further information about the service and delivery of documents, see Rules Rules 4-1 to 4-6.

Read the Rules

Rules 4-1 to 4-6 Service of documents

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