The law is often perceived to be out-of-date and behind time but the long arm of the law has evolved to meet the technological developments of the twenty-first century and has recently stretched even further to allow legal claims to be served via Facebook. This controversial decision in the case of De Baise was made by the High Court Judge Mr Justice Teare who ruled that in a claim worth $2.1million the Claimant would be granted permission to serve court papers upon a difficult to locate Defendant via a social networking site.
This is not the first decision of its kind and in 2009 a County Court judge allowed an injunction to be served via Twitter when the Defendant could not be tracked down outside of his online identity.
There are concerns about this new role that social media has come to play in the justice system over recent years and much discussion has followed this landmark decision. Notably, lawyers representing the Claimants in the case to allow papers to be served via Facebook have deemed this leap forward to be a ‘natural progression’.
Historically, Facebook was recognised as an online playground for teenagers to communicate with each other and post photographs. This informal blog-site has since evolved into a multi-faceted forum for communication, social networking and business used by teenagers, adults, companies and business-people. This in turn has led the site to become an integral part of society where every man and his dog have a profile accessible to the world.
Many have voiced their worry that privacy is being invaded and that technology and social networking sites bestow too much power upon government and public bodies. There has also been apprehension over whether allowing the law and its civil procedures to penetrate the social networking realm will ultimately destruct the privacy of those using social networking sites.
Many have commented that the law cannot be taken seriously if it uses Facebook as a platform to pursue Defendants and that the traditional, more conservative methods of serving court papers should be preserved.
However, a number of advocates have put forward a case to diminish the black-letter law approach and have justified these changes by asserting that so long as the right person is correctly identified and properly notified, the primary concern in law will be addressed and the process cannot be criticised for being arbitrary.
So, whilst it may be impossible to track down a person at a fixed abode, a workplace or even in one particular city; Facebook allows us to eradicate the constraints of distance and prevent those side-stepping the law absconding into cyberspace.
The law currently supports the practice of pursuing a Defendant via his corner of web-space. One of the first landmark cases where an application was made to serve court papers on a Defendant via Twitter cited the security and reliability of social networking sites as a communication medium. Ironically, this was a case in which the Claimant was seeking an injunction against the Defendant for creating a Twitter account in the Claimant’s name and posting photographs and blogs under a false identity.
The future of using social networking sites as a vehicle for effecting service of formal court documents remains to be written, but the no-cost communication service of old will come at a high price for those seeking to avoid being served!