In a landmark ruling from the United Kingdom’s High Court, legal claims can now be served via Facebook. Although this has happened before on rare occasions, typically when a defendant cannot be easily identified or located offline, this opens the door for the practice to become much more common. As more and more people construct their primary identities online and leave little in the way of an official paper trail, the courts have been forced to adapt.
While some question the efficacy of serving claims via the internet, it is clear that the trend towards greater cooperation between the worlds of traditional legal practice and modern online living will continue. However, reaction towards the ruling has been mostly negative, or so the comments left on the original article as well as opinion pieces suggest. Some commentators are scoffing at the notion that the courts can assume any connection between an online persona and the real world. One remarked that his Facebook account was actually in his horse’s name, and another suggested that would be criminals avoid charges through use of an alias. Yet others see this ruling as an example of “power-hungry” judges ignoring due process and diverting the course of justice in order to serve the interests of the powerful.
But what are the experts saying? Lawyers and tech experts also appear to be skeptical of how widespread the impact of the ruling will be, but they do admit that using Facebook is a novel way of tracking down hard to reach defendants, and can be useful when desperation sets in. It is also worth noting that the practice is routine in Australia and New Zealand.