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Signed, sealed, delivered – service deemed to take place on date of receipt rather than date of posting, in absence of contrary intention

Freetown Limited v Assethold Limited [2012] EWCA Civ 1657

Freetown and Assethold owned neighbouring buildings in London. Freetown served notices on Assethold under the Party Wall Act 1996 in relation to proposed development works. The parties each appointed a surveyor and those surveyors in turn applied to a third party surveyor to make an award. The award was posted on either 22 or 23 July 2011 and was received by Freetown on 25 July 2011. Freetown appealed against the award on 8 August 2011. Under the Party Wall Act 1996, an appeal must be lodged within 14 days of service of the award. If the 14 days ran from the date of posting then Freetown’s appeal was out of time. If, however, it ran from the date of receipt then Freetown was still in time.

The judge at first instance applied a Court of Appeal decision in relation to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1927 and held that the 14 days ran from the date of posting. Freetown appealed.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal. In the absence of a contrary intention, the matter was governed by section 7 of the Interpretation Act 1978, which provided that documents served by post are deemed to have been received when they would arrive in the ordinary course of the post. The Court of Appeal held that the relevant provisions of the Party Wall Act did not indicate any contrary intention and, given that the time limit in question was just 14 days, it was very unlikely that it could have been intended that that time limit should be eroded by deeming service to take place on the date of posting rather than the date of receipt.  The Party Wall Act could be distinguished from the Landlord and Tenant Act 1927 where the Court had held that a contrary intention did apply.