Serving legal documents by email

Posted on March 6th, 2017

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Can legal documents be served by email?  If so, when are they received?

Mr Campbell claimed he was owed a debt by Austar Finance.  He issued a Statutory Demand to wind it up.  Austar commenced Court proceedings to set aside the Demand.  Its solicitor ‘served’ the Court documents both by facsimile and by email.  The evidence showed there was a problem with the facsimile transmission and the Court was not satisfied that the documents had been served by fax. 


The next issue was, therefore, whether the documents had been ‘served’ by email.  That involved technical evidence about how emails are transmitted, and how and where they are stored.  Austar’s technical expert said that the email would have been received by Mr Campbell, and sitting in his in box, within 5 minutes of being sent.

The Court did not accept that evidence.  Because of the way Mr Campbell’s email account was hosted, the Court was not satisfied that any email serving Court documents was actually received by him (as opposed to his email hosting service) within the time frame required. It decided the documents had not been ‘served’ – which meant that Austar’s case was dismissed.


If there is doubt, for example whether the email is on the addressee’s computer, or whether it might actually be on the email host service server (with just a link telling the addressee an email had been transmitted) that may not be enough. If Court documents are served either by facsimile or email it must be shown they have actually been received in a readable form by the person to be served

So, if you need to serve Court documents, we suggest that unless you get an actual acknowledgement of receipt of a facsimile or email, it is prudent to also serve the documents personally or by post, where possible, to ensure you can prove they have been ‘received’.  If you can’t prove this, the consequences could be fatal to any application:  Austar Finance Group Pty Ltd v Campbell [2007] NSWSC 1493.

Tony Cavanagh Director at Mullane & Lindsay Solicitors NewcastleTony Cavanagh is a Director at Mullane & Lindsay Solicitors and practises extensively in Commercial dispute resolution and litigation, and employment law. If you require any assistance in these areas please contact Tony Cavanagh or contact our Newcastle or Sydney office. 

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