Lawyers in Australia have served a default judgment on borrowers by sending it via Facebook. The Supreme Court of Australian Capital Territory gave leave for service to be effected in this way because the borrowers had left their last-known address. There was enough information on the Facebook accounts to satisfy the court that the addressees were the right people.
This is a good example of pragmatic thinking by a court and one might somehow expect that Australia would score a first. The rules relating to service of documents are off my patch so I do not claim to know what the English courts would do. Rule 6.15(1) CPR, under the heading Service of the claim form by an alternative method or at an alternative place says:
Where it appears to the court that there is a good reason to authorise service by a method or at a place not otherwise permitted by this Part, the court may make an order permitting service by an alternative method or at an alternative place.
If that is the rule for an originating process, the service of subsequent documents is unlikely to involve a more restrictive test. The real point is the likelihood that the intended recipient will get the document. The court would perhaps want some evidence that the Facebook account was currently used.
I point to the overriding objective in the UK Civil Procedure Rules and to Part 3.1(2)(m) of the court’s general powers of management – the power to take any other step or make any other order for the purpose of managing the case and furthering the overriding objective. The corollary to the court’s power to make any order is that parties may seek any order – furthering the overriding objective is a duty as well as powers, and the duty is shared between judges and practitioners.
This is the second context in which Facebook has appeared on this site recently. My article Birmingham Law Society e-disclosure seminar includes a report of barrister Edward Pepperall’s use of Facebook to collect information which contradicted evidence being given by his clients’ opponents in litigation. That is a good example of a lawyer lifting his head from conventional sources of documents and thinking laterally round the problem.
I doubt that these are the only litigation-related functions for which Facebook could be used. Professor Richard Susskind long ago predicted that Wikis, social networks and various other applications would find business uses miles away from their founders’ intentions. It seemed a fanciful notion at the time, but then so many of Susskind’s ideas seem fanciful – right down to the moment when they become everyday fact.