Service of court papers using social media

Facebook used to serve a court summons

All too often as part of the “game” of litigation a party to a dispute will seek to delay or prevent a case proceeding by avoiding service of court documents. The English civil procedure rules provide different requirements for different types of cases, essentially along the lines that, the more important the document, the more important it is to be able to demonstrate to the courts that the recipient received the document. A good example of this is that the rules are typically quite strict for bankruptcy proceedings, since obviously, such proceedings have significant implications and the courts want to be satisfied that a person potentially being made bankrupt has had full notice of the proceedings. The problem created by this can be that a debtor who knows proceedings are being issued may seek to deliberately avoid service, even by involving friends and family, who will deny to a process server that the person lives at an address, or they are never there when attempts are made at service.

In some circumstances, the English courts have allowed documents to be served by email, but in a  very recent development, it seems a court has for the first time accepted valid service via Facebook.

In this case, the lawyer had made appropriate attempts to serve the summons directly upon the debtor but failed, and consequently applied for specific permission in Hastings County Court for permission to serve the court papers via Facebook. The court was satisfied that all appropriate methods had been tried and that the recipient was active on Facebook and would receive the  papers and consequently made the Order.

One interesting consideration likely to apply in the future is to ensure that any service by facebook or other social networking site still respects the recipients right to privacy under Human Rights law, so care needs to be taken that service is not effected in any way which is visible to any friends of the recipient.

For advice on all aspects of legal disputes or social media, we suggest obtaining advice from solicitors. A few firms who may be able to help can be found by clicking here or here.

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