The future of legal process & social media

There has been much controversy about the use of social media and it’s impact upon the application and enforcement of the law. Just this week, Katie Price appeared in Parliament after a petition was launched to make social media abuse a criminal offence.  This has been in and out of the media for a while now, with high profile individuals and MPs discussing the impact of social media abuse, particularly after the 2017 general election.

Whilst there can be, and has been, convictions of individuals who post abuse on social media, there is no separate offence to deal with the specific nature of social media. Instead, prosecutors have to rely on other elements of criminal law (examples of convictions include assault and harassment).

Information about the campaign being led by Katie Price can be found here:

Diane Abbott (the Shadow Home Secretary) has been a prominent advocate of a change in the law.  Some of her views on the issue of online abuse have been explained here:

However, despite many of the news stories concerning social media and the law being negative, a recent story reported in Canada demonstrates how social media might be used in an advantageous way.

As context, in order to commence civil proceedings against an individual, they must be ‘served notice’.  This involves informing the individual that a claim is being commenced and will outline the details of the claim.  In most cases, notice will be served by sending it to the defendant’s known address. Issues can arise, however, where the address of the defendant is unknown.

Often in practice when trying to locate the address of a defendant, solicitors will use social media and online accounts as a form of trying to locate information.  In Canada, after unsuccessful attempts to locate an address, a judge in Toronto approved the service of notice via private message on Instagram and LinkedIn.  The benefit of using these methods of communication on social media platforms is that the sender can see when a recipient has ‘seen’ the message.  The same is true for Facebook messenger and Twitter DMs, and would presumably be able to be applied in the same way.

Could this apply in the UK?

Part 6 of the Civil Procedure Rules states that one method of service is can be ‘fax or other means of electronic communication’. Other means of electronic communication is now commonly acknowledged to include emails, but the parameters of whether social media could be used are untested.  Para 6A of the Practice Direction, however, states that in order for electronic communications to be used as a method of service, the individual being served notice (or their solicitor) must have indicated in writing that they are willing to accept service by fax or other electronic means.  This means that in the UK, the situation in Canada would unlikely have been accepted due to the fact that the defendant had not given approval for notice to be served via this method.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting case to consider how the increasing exposure to and use of social media and online communications might impact upon the law and legal process in the future.

For a quick insight into the case, here is the news report:

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