A High Court judge in England has approved the use of Facebook to serve legal claims.
Traditionally, in England (as well as here in the states), service of legal documents is done in hard copy either by hand delivery, mailing, or fax. However, in some cases, where the whereabouts of the party being served are not certain, the court will consider alternatives.
Alternatives to traditional service of process have varied, and generally require approval from the court. For instance, here in Utah, counsel would have to assert reasonable diligence in trying to ascertain the identity or whereabouts of the party to be served. If after doing so they still had no clarity on whom or where to serve, they could motion to court to allow service by publication. Some courts have even allowed service via text message.
England’s system does not vary much from our own. Attorneys were unsure of his current address and did not have an e-mail address. They sent hard copies through the mail to his last known address, and after ensuring he was active on Facebook, (they monitored his account and saw him add two friends), they sought permission to send the claim through Facebook. The judge allowed for extra time for response, in case he was not accessing the account regularly.
While using Facebook for service may seem quite novel, it has been done several times before. Facebook has been used for service in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Twitter has been used in the United Kingdom as well (against an anonymous blogger who was impersonating the plaintiff).
Here in the U.S.A. the concern that has been expressed is a person registering for a social networking profile potentially may not be who they claim to be, and infrequent users of social media accounts may not receive actual notice.
While this is a fantastic argument of why not, why don’t those same arguments of actual notice trump notice by publication? One would think a person has a better chance of getting notice via their Facebook or Twitter account than via the newspaper.
It will be interesting to watch this line of service develop as technology continues its march in supplementing if not replacing printed goods.