Over the years, the courts have been willing to allow service of legal proceedings via Facebook (AKO Capital LLP and another v TFS Derivatives and others (2012)) and Twitter (Blaney v Persons Unknown (2009)), in circumstances where the claimant has been unable to locate the defendant in order to serve him through more traditional means. However, the recent case of DDF v YYZ marked what is thought to be the first time that a claimant has been permitted to serve proceedings on a defendant via Instagram, the photo-sharing site.
This case illustrates Instagram’s rise in popularity in recent months, and the willingness of the courts to assist claimants in enforcing their rights against otherwise uncontactable defendants.
The claimant in question had obtained an injunction against the defendant to prevent harassment and the publication of private information. According to a report by Media Lawyer, the claimant, a student who cannot be named, sought a banning order against the unknown defendant after receiving a large volume of messages from them through Instagram, which included:
- threats to make false complaints that the student had committed serious sexual offences; and
- threats to disclose intimate pictures.
Mr Justice Nicol granted the injunction at an ex parte hearing on the grounds that the claimant would be likely to obtain injunctions at trial in respect of such messages, both under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and, in relation to the threat to disclose intimate pictures, against the disclosure of private information. The injunction including a provision clarifying that it did not prevent the defendant from making a complaint in person at the police station if necessary, given the criminal nature of the defendant’s allegations.
It was just and appropriate to grant the injunction before the defendant was alerted to the fact that the proceedings had started, given the nature of the messages and the fact that the defendant was unknown. The fact that the defendant was unknown was also the foundation for Mr Justice Nicol granting permission for the proceedings to be served on the defendant via Instagram. In the circumstances, it was the only means of providing them to the defendant.
This permission was granted under CRR Rule 6.15(1), which states that where it appears to the court that there is a good reason to authorise service by a method or at a place not otherwise permitted, the court may make an order permitting service by an alternative method or at an alternative place. Mr Justice Nicol reiterated that if the defendant was subsequently identified, and an address for service became available, service would continue in the usual manner.
Given the continuing rise of social media, which has bought with it a corresponding increase in claims arising against anonymous defendants, it is appropriate that the courts have been, and continue to be, willing to be creative on issues of service and respond to the growth in popularity of different social media forums.
DDF v YYZ (unreported, 5 June 2015)