Correctly serving legal documents or Court proceedings in New Zealand.

June 1, 2024
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Your guide to ensuring you correctly serve legal documents or Court proceedings in New Zealand.

The majority of legal documents filed in the High Court, District Court or Family Court in New Zealand are required to be served personally on the defendant or recipient. It is the applicants and plaintiffs responsibility to serve their legal documents or Court proceedings are served correctly and in accordance with the Courts rules of service.

There are various ways legal documents or Court proceedings can be correctly served in New Zealand:

  • Serving personally on the defendant or recipient.
  • Posting it to their address or leaving it at that address between the hours of 9am and 5pm.
  • Sending it to a po box, email address or fax number provided to you by the other party (approved for service by the recipient or defendant).
  • Substituted service (usually when efforts have failed to serve the legal documents or court proceedings personally).

Cases can be delayed if one of the involved parties claims they were not served. So whatever the service method used, its important this can be supported by evidence that the defendant or recipient accepted service by the method used. You must seek the permission to serve the legal documents or court proceedings via an alternative method, refer to the Ministry of Justice (NZ Courts) information online regarding the service of legal documents.

Serving an individual vs a company:

The rules of service are difference when serving a registered company in New Zealand. Service is usually carried out at the company’s registered office. In New Zealand the service of legal documents on a company must adhere to the rules outlined in the Companies Act. Methods of service are different from serving a private individual to serving a company, it’s important to understand and comply with the New Zealand Courts rules of service.

Company documents are usually served by the following service methods:

  • Handing to a current director of the company being served (residential or business address).
  • Serving the company’s registered office (always check the companies office website to ensure the registered office address is current).
  • If there is no one present at the registered office (usually an accountant or solicitors office), the legal document or court proceedings can be left at the address.

Correctly serving a private individual (recipient or defendant)

New Zealand Courts rules of service states personal service is the preferred method of service. Engaging a process server is highly recommended for this purpose. Personal service is the process of handing the legal documents or court proceedings to the recipient or defendant. The process server will ask the recipient or defendant to acknowledge their identity and then hand the legal documents or court proceedings to the recipient or defendant. When the legal documents are a dissolution of marriage (divorce) application, the recipient will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of service. If they refuse to do so, the process server will note this in their affidavit of service.

If the recipient or defendant refuses service, the legal documents or court proceedings can be served by placing them at the recipients or defendants feet (or closing door). This satisfies the Courts service requirements. Often a recipient or defendant will deny their identity, this is often the case with habitual debtors, the process server can identify the recipient or defendant by social media or a simple Google search.

If the defendant can’t be located or is actively avoiding service, an order for substituted service may be an option, this means the legal documents or court proceedings can be served on a family member, workplace or by attaching to their front door or serving on any adult at the last known address. A solicitor may be authorised by the defendant or recipient to accept service on their behalf. Understanding the rules of service are important, you need to ensure correct service, we suggest to always use a reputable and experienced process server to serve your legal documents or court proceedings.

Please note: this blog is to provide a simple overview of the service of process. We urge you to seek legal advice from a legal firm, solicitor or community law center.