Service in the Federal Courts

Court proceedings have specific rules about how and when you need to give certain documents to other parties involved in the proceeding. This process is called ‘serving’ court documents. Failure to follow these rules can have a significant impact on your ability to continue your proceeding. This factsheet covers the rules of service for general federal law proceedings in the Federal Circuit and Family Court (FCFC) (for example, Fair Work, bankruptcy, or human rights proceedings) and the Federal Court of Australia (FCA). 

In this factsheet:  

  • a reference to “the FCFC Rules” is a reference to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 2) (General Federal Law) Rules 2021 (Cth); and 
  • a reference to “the FCA Rules” is a reference to the Federal Court Rules 2011 (Cth). 


  • What is service? 
  • Types of service 
  • What if I cannot locate a person to serve documents? 
  • What happens if documents are incorrectly served? 
  • Further information 

What is service? 

Service means giving court documents to another person or organisation. Different courts have different rules about how this must be done. The rules are in place so that the court can be sure that the person (or organisation) has been made aware of the document. Usually, every document that is given to the court in a proceeding must be served on each other party.  

Types of service 

There are different ways of serving documents (or types of service), with each type being used in specific situations. The court rules specify what sort of service is required in different circumstances. For example, documents beginning a proceeding must usually be served personally.  

You should obtain legal advice about the type of service you need to use in your specific situation and court.  

This rest of this factsheet will explain more about each of the types of service, so you understand what you need to do to serve documents correctly in your case.  

Personal service 

Personal service, also called “service by hand”, is a requirement in some circumstances, such as service of a Creditor’s Petition or when starting a new proceeding. 

Personal service requires that documents be given directly to the person or organisation that is required to be served.  

For an individual, personal service means that the document must be taken to the person, the person must be identified as the person named on the document, and the document handed to them. If the person refuses to take the document, the person serving it may put the document down in the presence of the person to be served and tell the person what the document is. See rule 6.07 of the FCFC Rules and rule 10.01 of the FCA Rules. 

If the party being served is a corporation, personal service of a document means you must: 

  • leave the document at a company’s registered office; 
  • post the document to the company’s registered office; or 
  • deliver a copy of the document personally to a director of the company who resides in Australia. 

See rule 6.08 of the FCFC Rules, rule 10.02 of the FCA Rules and section 109X of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth). The registered office of a corporation can be different from the company’s principal place of business. You should obtain a current company extract from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission which will show the company’s registered address. 

These steps can be done by you, or you can ask a friend or family member to do it for you. If you prefer, you may be able to hire a professional process server or bailiff who can undertake personal service on your behalf. 

Ordinary service 

If personal service of a document is not required, you can serve a document on a person by way of “ordinary service”. Ordinary service is often the required method for serving documents filed once a court proceeding is on foot. 

Ordinary service can be completed by delivering the documents to a party’s address for service, which will be provided on any documents that party files in the court proceeding: see rule 6.11 of the FCFC Rules and rule 10.31 of the FCA Rules. In this context, “delivering” documents to an address can include: 

  • delivering the documents personally to that address; 
  • sending documents to the address by pre-paid post in a sealed envelope addressed to the party; or 
  • emailing the documents (if an email address is provided as an address for service). 

If a party is represented by a lawyer, the lawyer’s address may be provided as the address for service. If this is the case, you can complete ordinary service by delivering the documents to the lawyer’s address. 

What if I cannot locate a person to serve documents? 

When a court proceeding is started, the other party will be required to provide an address for service where you can serve them documents. 

However, in order to start court proceedings, you will need to be able to locate the other party or parties.  

If you are unable to locate a person through reasonable enquiries, or you think a person may be deliberately trying to evade attempts at personal service, you may ask the FCFC or FCA for an order for substituted service. You should seek legal advice if you think you need to make an application for substituted service.  

What happens if documents are incorrectly served? 

Failing to properly serve a document could result in your court proceedings being delayed or dismissed.  

If you start a proceeding, it will not be able to progress until the other party is correctly served with the documents and given an opportunity to respond to your case. The court may need to adjourn scheduled hearings until service is completely correctly, which may mean significant delays in having your case heard. Your case could also be dismissed. 

To give yourself the greatest chance of success in court, make sure you are following the court rules and completing service correctly.  

Further Information 

To find out more information about service, the court process, and all the forms you will need to complete visit the court websites: 

Federal Court: 

Federal Circuit and Family Court: