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Court claim slapped on bloke via Facebook in landmark case

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Facebook messages will become a common way to serve court documents, reckons lawyer Jenni Jenkins, after a judge allowed a legal claim to be sent to a bloke via the social network.

Mr Justice Teare granted brokerage firm Traditional Financial Services (TFS) permission to serve a court notice to one of their former employees over Facebook, setting a precedent for dishing out legal paperwork over Web 2.0.

Jenkins, who worked on the case for law biz Memery Crystal, told The Register that though the circumstances of the case were specific, Facebook would become a common way to serve documents in future.

Fabio De Biase was a broker with TFS until 2010, but his former employers decided to claim money from him after they were sued by one of their customers who accused the firm of overcharging.

In De Biase's dealings with customer AKO he allegedly bumped up his commission above the standard rate, taking $739,000 (£470,600) above what he was due. Having been dragged into the High Court, employers TFS pressed last Friday for Facebook to be used to contact De Biase because he was not believed to be resident at the address they had on record for him.

High Court documents have never been served by Facebook before in the UK but the judge agreed for two reasons, Jenkins explained: that the recipient could be correctly identified and that it had been established that his account was active.

It was quite a specific case: the serving party was a employee of the server, and number of employees were still friends with him so they were able to identify him. A problem with Facebook is that if you have a number of people with the same name, you can't always be sure that you are correctly identifying them.

The account was believed to be active because De Biase had recently accepted some friend requests.

Jenkins said that provided the two criteria were met, we would likely see many more court documents served by Facebook. Jenkins mentioned that email is already widely used.

In case you're wondering, TFS didn't post the claim form on De Biase's wall, tag him in a photo of a court document, or create a Facebook event for the court date and invite him to it.

"No, I don't think they posted it on his wall," Jenkins said. "It would have been a private message with the documents attached by PDF. I don't know who served it, TFS were serving the claim so I assume would have been one of their solicitors but I don't know if they set up a new account to do it or not." ®

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