You’ve been served – on Facebook

A High Court judge today approved the serving of court papers via Facebook, the popular social network web site, in what is thought to be a New Zealand first.

The High Court in Wellington was told that Axe Market Garden is trying to sue Craig Axe who is alleged to have taken $241,000 from the firm account.

Counsel for the company Daniel Vincent said the plaintiff was effectively Axe's father John and there were difficulties in serving papers on his son.

Craig Axe was known to be living in Britain but his exact whereabouts were not known.

Mr Vincent said Axe had corresponded via email and was also known to have a Facebook site.

He asked associate justice David Gendall if he would take the unusual step of approving a secondary service order on Axe via Facebook and email to avoid him frustrating his client's court action.

Justice Gendall did not bat an eyelid in the court room when approving the order after being assured that newspaper adverts could not be effectively targeted.

The court was told that there was a family dispute that predated the alleged taking of money from the account.

The money had been accessed via the internet while Axe was in England.

It was alleged that he was assisted in taking the money by a second defendant Nicholas Scown in four different transactions.

The court was told Mr Scown was now living in Auckland and would be served papers as normal.

The case was adjourned until April 27.

Mr Vincent told NZPA after the hearing that he believed it was first time the court had allowed the serving of papers via Facebook in New Zealand.

The secondary service order including papers outlining the case against Axe and the intention to sue him and his co-defendant.

Mr Vincent said he had been inspired by a recent court case in Australia where the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court approved an application to use Facebook to legally notify a couple they lost their home after defaulting on a loan.

Facebook has become a wildly popular online hangout, attracting more than 140 million users worldwide since it launched in 2004.

After the Australian case, Facebook praised the ruling. "We're pleased to see the Australian court validate Facebook as a reliable, secure and private medium for communication. The ruling is also an interesting indication of the increasing role that Facebook is playing in people's lives," it said.