Serving court papers via e-mail, social media cost-effective, faster: Lawyers

The house Mr Chris Au listed as his dwelling in one of his filings with the court. When lawyers from WongPartnership served court documents on Mr Au on Aug 12, they were sent via e-mail and Facebook.
The house Mr Chris Au listed as his dwelling in one of his filings with the court. When lawyers from WongPartnership served court documents on Mr Au on Aug 12, they were sent via e-mail and Facebook.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

When lawyers from WongPartnership served court documents on Mr Chris Au on Aug 12, they were not handed to him in person. Instead they were sent to Mr Au via e-mail and Facebook.

It is believed to be one of the first times this has happened since the High Court ruled in March that court papers can be served through Facebook, Skype and Internet message boards.

Then, High Court assistant registrar Zhuang Wenxiong granted such an application for documents to be served on an Australia-based defendant in a copyright suit.

Ordinarily, court documents are served in person by an individual known as a process server who physically hands over the documents to the third party.

 

Lawyers told The Sunday Times the new ruling will allow the courts here to keep pace with technological developments and lead to quicker and more cost-effective modes of service.

  • WHO SUED AND WHY

  • Court documents show a record of legal suits that have been filed against Mr Au and his companies in the last few years. Their outcomes are not known.

    AGAINST MR AU

    UOB bank for $81,033 in 2016

    Reason: For banking, credit facilities, overdraft or guarantees.

    Lawyer Wong Kai Yun for $300,000 in 2016

    Reason: Mr Au allegedly issued Ms Wong a $300,000 cheque that bounced on a car deal involving his Lamborghini Aventador.

    Standard Chartered bank for $148,219 in 2015

    Reason: For banking, credit facilities, overdraft or guarantees.

    Standard Chartered bank for $165,028 in 2014

    Reason: For banking, credit facilities, overdraft or guarantees.

    AGAINST CATALUNYA, WHERE MR AU WAS CEO AND DIRECTOR

    Law firm Rajah and Tann for $43,742 in 2016

    Reason: For legal fees, disbursements and GST.

    Chia Kun2 Cleaning Centre for $38,160 in 2016

    Reason: For provision of services.

    Bacardi-Martini Singapore for $50,663 in 2016

    Reason: For sale of goods.

    Precious Quay for $1.068 million in 2016

    Reason: For rental.

    Twin Creation for $156,580 in 2015

    Reason: For provision of cleaning services.

    Iconic Locations for $1.136 million in 2015

    Reason: For sale of goods and services.

    Million Lighting Co for $66,481 in 2013

    Reason: For sale of goods.

    AGAINST AU CHOCOLAT, WHERE MR AU IS DIRECTOR

    Indoguna for $14,071 in 2015

    Reason: For sale of goods.

    Songlilai Trading Enterprise for $8,483 in 2014

    Reason: For goods sold and delivered.

    Marina Bay Sands for $583,039 in 2014

    Reason: For rental.

    Kingsmen Exhibits for $196,363 in 2013

    Reason: Over a contract, specifics not known.

    Danson Cheong

In his judgment grounds released in May, assistant registrar Zhuang wrote: "If the cornerstone of substituted service is efficacy at bringing notice, then a court must be open to substituted service through electronic means other than e-mail."

In the latest case, lawyers from WongPartnership applied to serve notice on Mr Au after they were unable to physically reach him.

IP lawyer Cheah Yew Kuin from Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow, said: "Service via e-mail or social media is just one other tool we are able to use to bring a suit to the attention of the defendant. It is using the technology, to assist the court in doing something that is currently being done by traditional methods."

Mr Cheah was one of the lawyers who applied for substituted service in the case that led to the March ruling. These traditional methods include pasting notices at the last known residential address or business premises of the defendant, or posting a notice in a newspaper.

Veteran lawyer Amolat Singh said that the new ruling showed the "evolutionary nature of the law": "There are people who make themselves scarce, but are quite active on Facebook. The long arm of the law has now stretched to social media."

But criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan cautioned that lawyers must be certain they are serving documents on the right person online.

He pointed out that a Facebook account could be run by several people: "The point remains whether identity can be ascertained... we need to be cognizant of these issues."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 21, 2016, with the headline 'Serving court papers via e-mail, social media cost-effective, faster: Lawyers'. Print Edition | Subscribe