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This article seeks to explain the position of legal notice concerning any legal dispute. A legal notice is the first step in initiating civil proceedings against the other party. The article explains the meaning of a legal notice, its usage, the contents of a legal notice, the procedural checklist to issue a legal notice, reply to a legal notice and procedural checklist for a reply to a legal notice.
Legal notice: All you need to know
I. What is a legal notice?
A legal notice is a document containing formal communication from one legal person to another containing in it, the intention to initiate legal proceedings against the other party. This is to bring to the notice of the other party the issue or grievance so they may prepare for it.
This concept is an ancient one, wherein before the declaration of war a notice is sent from one party to another regarding the declaration. As times are more civilized now, the same is done in the form of a legal notice.
A legal notice is the first step to begin civil litigation.
In a civil suit, the meaning of justice differs from that of any criminal litigation. Civil suit mostly involves either personal matters or matters concerning some pecuniary consideration or land-related issues. These matters are in personam, they are between two or more legal persons. Since these matters are about damages, it is only fair to let the other party know what is the damage they have caused and what you (the aggrieved party) intend to do about it.
To begin with, the fundamental purpose of a legal notice is to inform the other party of your (the aggrieved party) intention to pursue litigation against them. It is to establish a level playing field for both sides. As without legal notice, the defendant will be at a loss, as he/she will not have time to prepare. This will give the plaintiff an upper hand.
Sending a legal notice complies with the common law principles of justice, equity and good conscience.
The other purpose can also be to avoid litigation by settling the matters outside the court using Alternate Dispute Resolution techniques. Litigation is time-consuming and expensive, parties pursuing litigation are bound to get caught up in it for a number of years. By making the other party aware of your grievance and issues, it not only gives them the opportunity to prepare for litigation but the chance to opt for Alternate Dispute Resolution.
By opting for ADR parties save themselves time and money.
For example – Ms A finds a defect in the services of company X, she wants to claim damages of Rs. 1,00,000. She sends a legal notice to company X regarding her intention to pursue litigation against them. When company X consults with their lawyer regarding the same they learn that pursuing litigation will cost them more than the damages Ms A has claimed. They now have two alternatives –
- Give into Ms As demand and pay her 1,00,00
- Use ADR to resolve the matter with Ms A.
When thinking logically and financially both these options are better than litigation for company X.
As regards to Ms A, she will also have to hire a lawyer to pursue litigation. Which will cost her money, and which will not guarantee her the desired outcome.
As for both the parties going into litigation is not the best choice, by sending a legal notice across the opportunity of resolving the dispute before it reaches the court has arisen.
III. What are the contents of a legal notice?
Any document which contains information regarding the dispute and communicated to the other party cannot be termed as a legal notice. For any formal document to constitute a legal notice the following essential information is required –
- the name, description and residence of the Plaintiff are given so as to enable the authorities to identify the person serving the notice;
- the cause of action and the relief which the Plaintiff claims are set out with sufficient particularity;
- the notice in writing has been delivered to or left at the office of the appropriate authority mentioned in the section; and
- the suit is instituted after the expiration of two months next after notice has been served, and the plaint contains a statement that such a notice has been so delivered or left
A summary of the problems that the plaintiff/aggrieved party is facing and issues raised therein, combined with the relief that is plaintiff/aggrieved party seeks must be mentioned clearly. A well-drafted notice can serve as a mediator between the parties to a dispute and result in avoiding litigation.
IV. Checklist for issuing a legal notice
While drafting a legal notice, you (the aggrieved party) should beware that you write what you (the aggrieved party) intend to do. You (the aggrieved party) cannot later change your (the aggrieved party) statement or claim.
Legal notice cannot be amended. Special care and attention have to be given to the words that you (the aggrieved party) are using to form the sentences. It is necessary to understand that a legal notice is not a trifling matter. It is an important step.
Legal notice as a document also holds great value when the case goes to trial. Take caution and give out too many details or your client will be in trouble. It is to be concise but consist of all the essentials.
- Step 1: The notice should be addressed to the other party.
- Step 2: The name and address of the other party should be mentioned clearly.
- Step 3: Mention of whose behalf the notice is sent.
- Step 4: Briefly mention the facts of the case, most importantly mentioned all the dates clearly.
- Step 5: Mention the cause of action and the date thereto.
- Step 6: Mention any previous communication regarding the issue and the dates of the same.
- Step 7: Allow the other party a period of 30 – 60 days to comply with your (the aggrieved party) demand or reply to your notice.
- Step 8: The notice should be signed by the plaintiff/aggrieved party and their advocate.
- Step 9: The notice is sent via registered post acknowledgement due and the receipt should be kept and a copy of the receipt should be made.
It is always advisable to have a lawyer draft a legal notice.
V. Reply to a legal notice.
Although the law does not make it compulsory to reply to a legal notice, it is advisable to do so. Not replying to a legal notice gives the aggrieved party an edge when the case goes to trial. The reply for a legal notice should be within the stipulated time mentioned in the legal notice.
VI. Checklist for replying to a legal notice.
While replying extra care needs to be paid to the language used in the legal notice. The intend of the legal notice should be understood clearly in order to draft a fitting reply.
- Step 1: Read the entire notice in context with the contract/agreement existing between the parties.
- Step 2: Check the period of limitation from the date of cause of action. In case the period of limitation has been crossed, the reply will be only one line. The suit is barred by limitation.
- Step 3: Cross-check the facts of the legal notice. Look at the rights and liabilities of the aggrieved party and look at your (responding party) rights and liabilities of under the contract/agreement. If the aggrieved party is in violation of any of their liabilities or have infringed the rights of the responding party mention the same clause wise. Demand payment/compensation for the same.
- Step 4: In case you (responding party) find any faults or breach in any obligation by the aggrieved party, express your (responding party) counter-claim.
- Step 5: Specifically answer to each and every point raised in the notice. As a lawyer, your duty will be to deny any such claims (after a discussion with your client).