Perhaps with some justification, the rules of Court practice and procedure are viewed by many as archaic and not particularly user friendly. However, law firm SGH Martineau, in what many regard as a first, recently sought and obtained permission from the Court to serve an injunction on a defendant via Twitter.
Could this be a sign that the legal system is starting embrace the digital world?
A client of the firm’s Education team had ejected an undesirable far-right group from one of its campuses and sought to ensure members of the group would face action if they trespassed on the University’s land again.
James Fownes, a lawyer in the Property Disputes team at SGH Martineau explains: “This objectionable group is targeting Higher Education establishments and tries to demonstrate on campus and leaflet students, the majority of whom find their behaviour intimidating and threatening.
“On the day in question, the group’s ejection from the campus was professionally managed by the University’s security staff. But, the threat of the group returning on large sprawling or multi-site campuses moved the University to seek an injunction to prevent their return.
“Whilst obtaining the injunction to bar the group and its members from our client’s campuses was relatively straightforward, serving it on those named within it, proved more problematical. This is not a recognised political group with offices and an organised infrastructure. Whilst the group is sufficiently constituted to be capable of being sued, they chiefly use Social Media to organise their protests, spread their message and highlight their activities.
“At the ‘hearing without notice’, we quickly raised the issue of not having an address at which paperscould be served. As the group promotes its activities primarily on Twitter, we asked if wecould serve the papers via twitter, or at least tweet a link, advising the account administrator that an injunction had been obtained and they could read the details by clicking the link – a very modern, digital approach for the legal profession, which is often accused of being more analogue, than digital.
“Interestingly the judge demonstrated a real understanding of the problems of the digital, virtual world. He not only granted our request to serve papers via Twitter, but granted a further injunction against one of the defendants which compelled him to procure that the group’s (offshore) web hosting company posted the original injunction on the group’s website.
“This interesting twist ensured we actually served two different injunctions; one telling the group and its members what they cannot do and conversely one telling them something they had to, which in my experience is quite unusual in this context.
Whilst social media is constantly in the news for tweets or postings that have sparked legal action, on this occasion Twitter proved a useful and appropriate tool to prevent illegal activity.
“As more of the world’s communication is undertaken digitally, with hackers, criminals and activists living and ‘working’ without necessarily having an established location in the real ‘bricks and mortar’ world, I expect more legal work to use social media to serve injunctions and other Court papers and proceedings in the future.”