05 Sep 2012

Corporate & Commercial Law Department

Practice Area(s): Corporate & Commercial |

KwaZulu-Natal Judge Esther Steyn's landmark ruling allowing a legal notice to be served on a defendant via Facebook hit the press last month.

The story is not new.  Plaintiff sues defendant but after the wheels of the justice system slowly finished grinding and a trial date is allocated, the defendant is nowhere to be found. In situations like these, the plaintiff has to inform the defendant of the trial date.  This plaintiff applied to court for an order permitting it to serve notice of the trial date using Facebook.

A recent amendment to the High Court rules incorporated parts of the Electronic Communications Act and specifically allows certain court documents to be served electronically, via fax, email or data message.

Judge Steyn said that the law must accommodate change and keep in touch with updates in communication technology.  She held that Facebook had evolved from being a social network into a tool for tracing individuals and bringing information to their attention.  Added to this, Facebook is easily accessible by most people using nothing more than their cell phones.

The Judge pointed out that her ruling had to be understood within the context of the case and the type of document to be served.  In other words, she was warning plaintiffs that Facebook is not a cure all and our courts will not necessarily allow its use across the board.  Having said that, in a society which is electronically driven, it is reassuring that our courts allowed the use of Facebook to serve documents at all.