Service of documents means the delivery of court documents to a legal or physical person. The mode of service is specifically regulated by the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure (Chapter 12 of the Laws of Malta).
Specific rules regarding the service of documents were inserted in national law to create a standard procedure of how documents are served and to ensure that all concerned parties receive legal documents relating to them or their action. Furthermore the said rules create certainty, for the benefit of the court, that documents have reached the addressee.
All documents filed in court have to be formally served. These include judicial letters, judicial protests, applications, writ of summons, appeals, replies, precautionary and executive warrants, and orders given by the Courts, Judges and Magistrates.
Upon filing of a document in court, it is the court which is responsible for serving documents. The party filing the claim has to file the document in court indicating the person on whom the document is to be served and the address of service. In case of more than one addressee, the party filing the document must ensure that there are enough copies for all addressees.
The Maltese receiving authority verifies the address provided if the service fails; however, in order to do so, the Maltese authority must be provided with an identity card number of the addressee in the case of a physical person. If the transmitting agency provides the said identification number, which is unique to every physical person, the receiving agency may attempt to establish an alternative residence.
In the case of companies, the requested authority verifies the registered address of the addressee company through an online system operated by the Registry of Companies within the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA). If the address provided by the transmitting authority differs from the one indicated there will be another attempt to service documents in the registered address.
When the court marshal indicates that he did not find the addressee in the address provided or that no body opened, the requested authority files an application in the appropriate court in order to obtain permission to notify the person (whether legal or physical) at that same address but after the hours established by our law. At times the service is successful.
When it comes to establishing a physical person’s address, only the receiving authority has access to records pertaining to a person’s address as long as the transmitting agency provides the identification number. This database is not available to the general public or to foreign authorities. On the other hand, essential information on companies such as the correct company name, the company registration number and its registered offices, can be checked by anyone, free of charge, through an online system under the Registry of Companies within the Malta Financial Services Authority. Specific information such as directors’ names, legal representatives, company secretary, etc, can be obtained online through the same website, but one has to create an account, and viewing of such information is against payment.
Reasons for such request are to be provided to the Central Authority when requesting about an address of a witness. The Central Authority however is not obliged to provide such information.
Judicial protests and legal documents which do not form part of a court case are served by registered post whereby a ‘pink card’ showing either the signature of the receiver or that the document is unclaimed. The 'pink card' would be attached to the original document (for instance with the official letter).
Other documents filed for the purpose of instituting legal proceedings or are filed in the course of a court case are served through the Court marshal by delivering the said document to the addressee, at the address indicated by the party filing the document, or by leaving such copy at his place of work or at his residence, or with some person in his service or his attorney or person authorised to receive his mail. However documents cannot be left with any person under the age of fourteen years or with any person who, at the time of service, has a mental disorder or other condition which renders him/her incapable of giving evidence of such service.
Documents cannot be served electronically in civil proceedings.
The receiving agency shall cause the document to be served by attaching the document to a judicial letter filed in the Registry of the Civil Court, First Hall, in the case of documents to be served in the Island of Malta, and in the Registry of the Court of Magistrates (Gozo) in its superior jurisdiction, in the case of documents to be served in the Islands of Gozo and Comino. These documents, together with the judicial letter will be served by the Court Marshal on the person addressed. Article 187 of the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure provides the method of how documents are to be served:
(a) Service shall be effected by the delivery of a copy of the pleading to the person on whom the pleading is to be served or by leaving such copy at the place of residence or business or place of work or postal address of such person with some member of his family or household or with some person in his service or his attorney or person authorised to receive his mail: provided that it shall not be lawful to leave such copy with any person under the age of fourteen years, or with any person who, on account of infirmity of mind, is unable to give evidence of such service. A person shall be presumed to be able to give such evidence unless the contrary is proved; and no objection may be raised on the ground of irregularity of the service for any of those reasons, if it is shown that the copy has actually reached the person to be served therewith;
(b) In the case of persons on board merchant ships, or members of the crew having no place of residence in Malta, service may be effected by delivering such copy to the master of the ship or any other person acting in that behalf;
(c) In the case of a body having a distinct legal personality, service on such body shall be effected by leaving a copy of the pleading: (i) at its registered office, principal office, or place of business or postal address with a person/s vested with the legal or judicial representation thereof or with the company secretary or with an employee of such body or (ii) with any of the aforementioned persons in the manner provided for in paragraph (a).
The document is deemed to be served when the person receiving the documents accepts service.
In terms of Maltese law, where a person to whom a pleading is addressed refuses to receive it personally from an executive officer of the courts, the court may upon an application by the interested party and after hearing the executive officer of the courts and considering all the circumstances of the incident, declare by means of a decree that service shall have been effected on the day and time of the refusal and such decree shall be considered as a proof of service for all purposes of law.
Furthermore, if a person knowingly avoids, obstructs or refuses service of any act or court order or execution of any warrant or order by a court marshal, s/he shall be guilty of contempt of court and shall be liable, on conviction to (a) reprimand, (b) expulsion from the court, (c) arrest for a period of twenty-four hours in a place within the building in which the court sits, or (d) a fine (ammenda or multa).
The Maltese postal service delivers mail to any individual found at the address who is ready to accept the mail, provided that he is of sound mind and not a child. There is a presumption that once an individual is found in the premises of the address and accepts the mail, then one is authorised to do so by the addressee. If one is not authorised, then one should not accept the mail, and if accepted, one then assumes the responsibility to forward it to the addressee. The recipient will sign upon delivery. This procedure is in accordance with Regulation 33 of the Postal Services (General) Regulations 2005.
Once nobody is available to answer the call and accept the mail in the case of a requirement of signature upon delivery, a notice is left at the address in question, advising the addressee of the attempt of delivery. The mail would be available for collection from the nearest Post Office. It remains at the discretion of the postal service provider whether further attempts to delivery are to be made. If the mail remains uncollected, then the mail is returned to sender marked as ‘unclaimed’. If the mail is refused by the addressee or his representative, then this is returned to sender forthwith marked as ‘refused’.
If nobody is available at the address to receive the mail, a notice is left at the address in question advising the addressee of the attempt, and also informing him that the mail item would be available for collection at the nearest Post Office. If the mail remains uncollected, the postal service provider at its discretion posts a final notice to the addressee, advising that the mail item is still awaiting collection. Generally, this is done following 5 days for local registered mail and 10 days for foreign registered mail. If such mail remains uncollected following these periods of time, then following a further 5 day wait, the mail is sent back to sender accordingly marked as ‘unclaimed’. Collection of mail item/s from the Post Office is only delivered to the addressee or an authorised representative upon presentation of the notice together with an identification document (passport or identification card) of the addressee.
A certificate of service or non-service is issued.
The original documents served by registered post will have a ‘pink card’ attached to them. Once returned to Court, the original documents are stamped in either black ink or red ink. Black ink is used to indicate that service has taken place, indicating also to whom the document was delivered. If the document was not served, the stamp would be in red ink, and it would also bear the reason why it was not served.
Documents which are served by the court marshal are stamped either in black ink if service is in the affirmative or red ink if service is in the negative, and will bear the signature of the Court marshal who was in charge of carrying out the service.
If the addressee does not receive the documents but the documents have been validly served by leaving a copy at the address, home or place of work of the addressee, service is deemed to be complete and valid. Service effected in violation of the law can be impugned by court action. If in default of a valid service the party to be served files a reply in court or makes an appearance in court, the service is taken to have been valid.
Through Legal Notice 148 of 2014, the receiving agency in Malta has set a fixed fee under Article 11 of Regulation 1393/2007 of €50 for each and every document to be served in Malta. This fee must be paid prior service. Payment of fees shall be made by bank transfer payable to the Office of the Attorney General, at the following bank account details:
Bank Name: Central Bank of Malta
A/c name: AG Office - Receipt of Service Documents
A/c number: 40127EUR-CMG5-000-Y
Swift Code: MALTMTMT
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