For those of you on the lam, it might be time to batten up the hatches on your social network availability because the long-arm of the law stretches a little further today due to a ruling in the United Kingdom that clears the way for lawyers to serve legal claims to defendants via Facebook. Justice Nigel Teare granted permission to a lawyer representing a pair of investment managers to seek out an elusive defendant on Facebook and issue a legal claim.
This has been a slow time coming as prosecutors find novel ways to locate and serve defendants. In 2009, a judge on Britain’s High Court (again?) granted permission for a lawyer to use Twitter in order to serve an injunction to a Twitter user. Last year, a lawyer used Facebook to issue a court summons to a difficult-to-find debtor (again, in Britain). Several reports of foreclosure notices being sent via Facebook have been reported in multiple countries (wanna guess which country was on that list?).
At the risk of being crass, I wonder what the protocol is for when legal eagles use social networks to serve legal claims. Do you have to directly message a defendant in order to legally verify that they’ve been served? Do you tag them in a public post (embarrassing, too!) or can you just tag somebody in a picture of the legal claims papers?
While no case of getting served on Facebook or Twitter has happened in the United States yet – at least, so far as the internet tells me – the more this continues to happen in the rest of the world only hastens the first time an American judge grants this kind of permission.