A technological first was achieved for HM Courts Service in March when Hastings County Court allowed a solicitor to serve a court order on a defendant via Facebook. The solicitor had been unable to serve a court order through conventional methods, that is, personal service, post, fax and email. Following a similar case in the Australian courts, the solicitor submitted an application to the court for substituted service. The solicitor argued that as the defendant frequently visited the site, the court order would come to the defendant's knowledge and could therefore be deemed served. The court permitted the substituted form of service and the court order was served via an email to the defendant's private Facebook page.
The case, however, raised a number of concerns. For example, what level of evidence is necessary to satisfy the court that a social network account is being actively used to grant permission for a substituted form of service? In this case, the solicitor proved that the defendant visited the site frequently (which in its own right raises arguments in favour of tightening profile security and minimising what data can be reviewed by the general public).
Claimants will also have to be careful to serve the order via the defendant's private email account so that other visitors to the defendant's page cannot read the court papers. It is also unknown whether the courts will allow service to a company's Facebook page as well as to an individual’s, however this seems unlikely at this time.
While we applaud the courts for keeping up to date with modern technology and modern forms of communication, it is unlikely that service via social media websites will become the norm. Given the difficulties of proving that the documents have been served on the defendant, it is unlikely that the more conventional methods of service will be altered to include social networks for the foreseeable future.