16 December 2008

Facebook: a new way to serve court notices?

The Times newspaper has reported a recent Australian case which has been making legal history in Australia on the issue of methods of service of court notices. The supreme court judge of the Australia Capital Territory has ruled that court notices served via Facebook are binding. The case is in stark contrast to a previous Australian ruling (by a district judge in Queensland) that service of legal documents via Facebook was not effective service as the Claimant failed to attempt to serve the documents via the methods provided by law (e.g. post).

This surprising ruling seems to turn very much on the facts of the case: the lawyers of the Claimant attempted to serve the court notice to the Defendants personally on several occasions, in compliance with the provisions of the law. However, they were unable to physically locate the Defendants.

The lawyer of the Claimant tracked down the Defendants on Facebook by searching for their email addresses (which the Defendants communicated to the Claimants earlier on) and date of birth. The judge accepted the argument advanced by the Claimant that this was indeed a lawful method of service despite not being the conventional one.

CyberPanda thinks that this is a very controversial ruling which raises a number of questions including privacy and legitimacy of notices served via online social communities as Facebook. CyberPanda is very doubtful that this ruling will have an impact in the UK: the Civil Procedures Rules in the UK have strict provisions as to the acceptable methods of serving legal documents on parties to a case and it is very difficult to see the rationale for expanding the scope of the existing rules to include online social communities. This case is setting a very dangerous precedent and CyberPanda will not be surprised if this ruling is distinguished (factually) in subsequent cases.

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