Facebook ruling sees lawyers reach into cyberspace

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Defendants hoping to evade the long arm of the law may now have to watch their backs in cyberspace after a court ruled that legal papers could be served through the Facebook social networking website.

Facebook, where users have their own profiles, can ‘poke’ one another and write on each others’ electronic ‘walls’, has some 150 million users worldwide.

In a recent case in Australia a judge ruled that lawyers could use the site to serve notice on a couple who had defaulted on a loan.

The judgement, for the loan amount and repossession of their home, was made when the couple failed to turn up in court, leaving lawyers with the task of finding the couple and serving them with the papers.

Having exhausted all other avenues, the lawyers hit on the idea of Facebook, and the court agreed it was a legitimate way of service.

The case has been closely analysed by the civil litigation team at regional law firm Stephens Scown, which handles a wide range of disputes for private and commercial clients ranging from contract and property issues to disputed wills and debt recovery.

Team leader Chris Harper, who is ranked among the top litigation lawyers in the South West in the Chambers guide to the legal profession, said: “We always aim to achieve the best possible solution for our clients, and that can mean going to some lengths in order to resolve a dispute in their favour.

“There are various ways of serving papers and we can send a defendant a text message or leave a voice message saying where the papers are, if other avenues have been exhausted.

“I’m sure the last thing a Facebook user would expect is a ‘poke’ from a litigation lawyer or a message left on their wall, but it’s probably only a matter of time before the English courts are asked to rule if this is a valid way of serving papers.

“We’d certainly look at it as a way of achieving the best result for our clients if we’d been unable to contact a defendant any other way and could prove that to the court.”