At your service

Posted: 14th December 2012

In a ruling of practical importance to property professionals, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a surveyor’s party wall award was validly served not when it was put in the post but when the parties to a dispute in fact received it. The court ruled that any other interpretation of the relevant statutory provisions could seriously erode the right of appeal against such awards.

The owners of adjacent properties involved in a party wall dispute had engaged an independent surveyor to rule on the differences between them. The surveyor’s award was posted on either Friday 22 July or Saturday July 23 2011 and arrived with the parties on Monday 25 July. The appellant lodged an appeal against the award at the county court on Cotswold HouseAugust 8 and an issue arose between the parties as to whether that was within the strict 14-day time limit for the lodging of such appeals laid down by section 10(17) of the Party Wall Act 1996 (the act).

At first instance it was ruled that the award was validly served on being correctly addressed, stamped and put into the post and that the appeal had therefore been lodged out of time. However, in overturning that decision, the Court of Appeal ruled that, on a correct interpretation of the service provisions in section 15(1) of the act, service was only achieved when the appellant received the document.

Lord Justice Rix said that any other interpretation of the statute would have the unreasonable result that a document could be deemed to have been served even if it were established that it had not been received. The already short 14-day time limit would also be cut down and the important right of appeal seriously eroded.