Can Court Documents Be Served on Me Through Twitter or Facebook?

In most countries where a person is having difficulty serving documents personally upon either a person or business, they can approach a Court and request a Court Order which allows them to serve the documents or Order upon the person or business in an alternate form than the Court Rules for service prescribe.

There have been cases where Lawyers, the Police and a blogger have approached a Court to ask for permission to serve Court documents or Orders online through a social networking website. In order to be successful in persuading a Court to make such an Order it is usually necessary to provide some evidence of what attempts have been made to serve the person or business so that the Court is satisfied that all reasonable steps to locate the person or business to serve the Court documents upon them have been made and have been unsuccessful. Additionally a Court would also need to be satisfied on the evidence presented, that serving the Court documents or Order through a social networking site such as Facebook or Twitter would be a method which is likely to lead to the documents coming to the relevant person’s attention.

In 2008 an Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court approved the online service of a Court Order upon a couple through their Facebook Account. After spending a lot of money on Private Investigators to locate the couple, a Lawyer located the couple’s Facebook account and presented sufficient evidence to the Court to satisfy the Court that there was enough information on the Facebook Account to identify the couple such as their email addresses, dates of birth, and friends lists. The Court approved the online service of the Court Order through the social networking site upon also being satisfied that the Order would be likely to come to the couple’s attention if served through the Facebook website.

A person wanting to serve Court documents or a Court Order online through a social networking site would therefore need to provide sufficient information to a Court that the social networking site was a sufficient method of communicating with the person.

This increasing trend of allowing the service of court documents online on people through Facebook or Twitter raises questions of how much evidence a Court requires to be satisfied the information on a social networking site is authentic, and hasn’t been fabricated or falsified by a third party.

A Federal Magistrate Court in Australia has also has approved the online service of a child support application to be served upon a man through his Facebook Account.

In 2010 a Victorian Police Officer sought an Order from a Judge to serve an Interim Intervention Order online against an alleged cyber stalker through his Facebook account. This was after attempts to locate him at his address, through email and through the Police Database had failed. The Judge imposed conditions on the service of the Court Order online through the social networking site. The Court Order was transcribed and keyed into private messages sent to the man’s Facebook Account. A video of a Police Officer reading and serving the order was prepared. The Respondent did not challenge the service of the Order and acknowledged having received notice of the Interim Order.

It will be interesting to see whether this trend opens the door to Government and other authorities serving different kinds of legal or court documents online through social networking sites and if so, whether uniform standards will be established for this purpose.

In 2009 the British High Court approved the online service of a Court Injunction upon an anonymous user of the microblogging site Twitter. A blogger who was being impersonated by the anonymous user on Twitter approached a Court and asked whether the Court would approve the Injunction being served online through the social networking site.

It will be interesting to see whether people will start approaching Courts for orders rather than relying on a social networking site to handle their legal concerns. This case was the first time a UK Court Order had been served online through Twitter.