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February 21, 2012 12:25 PM

In a U.K. First, High Court Judge 'Likes' Facebook for Serving Legal Claims on Missing Defendant

Posted by Chris Johnson

In a landmark ruling issued Tuesday, a U.K. judge has paved the way for high court claims to be served via Facebook for the first time ever.

The decision by Mr. Justice Teare empowers lawyers for broker TFS Derivatives to use the social networking site to track down former employee Fabio de Biase as part of a suit brought against the company by investment manager AKO Capital.

AKO alleges that the brokerage overcharged it £1.3 million ($2.1 million) in commission payments for trading activity. TFS denies liability and has argued that it should be allowed to recover part of any claim from de Biase, a derivatives negotiator who managed TFS's relationship with AKO, and AKO trader Anjam Ahmad.

Anjam and de Biase were found guilty of insider dealing in 2010 following a Financial Service Authority investigation. De Biase was fined £250,000 ($395,000) and banned from the financial services industry for life. Ahmad was sentenced to a ten-month jail term, suspended for two years, and fined £50,000 ($79,000).

Attempts to serve the claim on De Biase at his last known address have so far been unsuccessful, prompting Stephenson Harwood property litigation partner Paul Thwaite, who is representing TFS, to appeal during pretrial discussions last Friday for permission to contact the disgraced broker via Facebook.

Serving claims via social media sites is increasingly common in Australia and New Zealand, and last May a U.K. lawyer successfully used Facebook to serve a hard-to-find debtor in a County Court trial. The TFS/AKO case, however, appears to be the first in which Facebook has been used to serve a high court claim. (The high court did previously allow an injunction to be served via Twitter.)

De Biase has been granted 14 days to respond to the claim—a significant extension from the two-day deadline that is typical in commercial cases—to allow him adequate time to check his Facebook account.

Clyde & Co's professional and commercial disputes cohead Neil Jamieson is representing AKO in the case, which is expected to go to trial in early 2013. Ahmad is being represented by associate Jenni Jenkins at London firm Memery Crystal.

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The article says, "De Biase has been granted 14 days to respond to the claim—a significant extension from the two-day deadline that is typical in commercial cases—to allow him adequate time to check his Facebook account." . . . their's the rub. Some people do not check their Facebook page for months. It would need to be shown that the person so served had actually checked their facebook page and had actual knowledge of the service. Other than that, it amounts to nothing more than service by publication, which in California would require a court order. Under that circumstance there would be nothing more agregious about service by Facebook than by publication - in fact, less so.

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