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The impact of social media on litigation has grown in recent months, with a High Court Judge ruling that the service of a claim may be carried out by Facebook.

CPR rules on serving court documents

In litigation, one party is often required to serve documents on another. It is important to get service right: a judgment can be set aside where service of a claim form is not carried out correctly.  The Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) set out strict rules on service methods and the place of service, for example,. by post to the last known address. The main aim of the rules is to ensure that reasonable steps are taken to let the person know that court proceedings are being brought against them.

However, serving court documents is not always possible using conventional methods. Where a party experiences difficulties in serving the claim form or other documents, the CPR gives the court the power to allow service by an alternative method or at another place.

In AKO Capital LLP & another v TFS Derivatives & others [2012] Mr Justice Teare permitted the use of Facebook to serve proceedings. TFS had attempted to serve proceedings against Mr de Baise (who had been brought into the proceedings as a second defendant) at his last known address but doubts remained as to whether he still lived there. TFS therefore applied to the court for permission to serve via Facebook. Importantly, they were able to show that Mr de Baise was the owner of the Facebook account and that the account was active. This helped to allay some of Mr Justice Teare’s concerns about service by this method and the request was granted.

Social media

This is not the first time social media has been used for serving documents in litigation. In 2009, the High Court allowed an injunction to be served by Twitter. In Australia and New Zealand, service by Facebook has been regularly used for several years now.  In the County Courts in the UK it has also occasionally been permitted. However, this is the first time service of a claim in this way has been approved at such a high level in this country.

Although the courts may be more willing to grant permission for service using social media, an application will still need to be made to the court. There is nothing currently in the CPR that permits service by social media as a standard form of service.

The decision demonstrates the courts’ increasing willingness to embrace advances in technology and recognise the different ways in which people communicate. It also highlights the serious side to social networking on the internet.

For more information on the issues raised in this article or on serving documents in general, please contact the Disputes Resolution team.