International Business Law Advisor Insights on International Litigation & Transactions

In Landmark Decision, UK High Court Permits Service of Process via Facebook.

Posted in International Litigation

As an international litigation attorney, one of the biggest challenges I face occurs even before litigation begins, i.e. serving process on a foreign defendant.

Whether I proceed under the Hague Convention or letters rogatory, the process can be frustrating even for seasoned practitioners.

I mention this because I just read of a fascinating development in the United Kingdom regarding service of process on a defendant.

As reported in the United Kingdom’s Telegraph, a judge in the United Kingdom agreed to allow a hard-to-locate individual to be served via Facebook in a civil case.

This decision comes on the heels of a the notable 2009 decision, where the same High Court gave permission for an injunction to be served via Twitter.

Here is the background of the latest case courtesy of Legalweek:

The case, involving a $2.1m claim brought by investment-managers AKO Capital and AKO Master Fund against former broker TFS Derivatives, has seen Mr Justice Teare approve the use of Facebook to locate former TFS employee Fabio de Biase. The investment managers allege that the broker significantly overcharged them; however, the broker denies liability and has argued that if held liable, it is entitled to recover a contribution from former AKO employee Anjam Ahmad and de Biase, who handled the relationship. De Biase has not participated in the proceedings to date and the parties involved have been unable to locate him. Following pre-trial discussions held last Friday (17 February), Teare granted Stephenson Harwood permission to serve de Biase with a claim via Facebook after it had not been possible to locate him.

Interestingly, Justice Teare gave the defendant 14 days to respond to the claim from the day it was served – sometime between February 17 and February 21 – an increase on the usual two days permitted due to uncertainty over how often he checks his Facebook account.

The time frame was reached after Justice Teare questioned whether the plaintiff could verify that the Facebook account belonged to the right defendant and whether he was in the habit of checking it.

The court heard that the defendant was friends with colleagues of the plaintiff, and that the account was known to be in use because he had accepted a few recent friend requests.

The decision is understood to mark the first time a claim (rather than a court order) has been served in the UK using the social networking site at the level of the High Court.

The ruling is being heralded by attorneys around the world, with one commenting:

The decision to permit service by Facebook demonstrates that the judges in London’s commercial court are prepared to deploy modern technology and changing social behaviors in support of litigants needing to serve opponents. In doing so they are continuing to enhance the reputation of London as a venue for the global business community’s high value and complex disputes.”

That’s a great point. For all its perceived old world style of  jurisprudence, it’s exciting to see the High Court leap more progressive countries in making it more difficult for defendants to evade service of process.

The UK High Court joins courts in Australia and New Zealand, which have previously allowed service via the social networking site.

Is the United States be far behind?