Court permits service of privacy and harassment proceedings via photo-sharing service
In DDF v YYZ, an injunction was obtained against an unknown defendant both to prevent harassment via the photo-sharing service Instagram, and to restrain the threatened disclosure of private information. The Claimant also obtained an order for permission to serve the proceedings on the Defendant via Instagram.
The Claimant had received a very large number of messages through Instagram from an unknown user or users, including threats to make false complaints that he had committed serious sexual offences, and threats to disclose purported private information in the form of intimate photographs.
In a hearing in private on Friday 5 June 2015, during which provisions were made for the anonymisation of the Claimant and the protection of the hearing papers, Nicol J gave an ex tempore judgment. The relief sought was granted on the basis that the Claimant at trial would be likely to succeed in obtaining an injunction both under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and against further disclosure of private information. Both the fact that the Claimant did not know the real identity of the Defendant, and the nature of the threats involved meant that it was just, convenient and appropriate that relief was granted before the Defendant was alerted to the institution of the proceedings.
Since the allegations in the messages included allegations of criminal conduct on the part of the Claimant (although some of these were said to be false by the Defendant), the Judge indicated that there should be a proviso in the injunction that made clear that the terms of the order would not prevent the Defendant, if he or she considered it appropriate, to make a complaint in person at a police station.
He also made provision for the service of the proceedings by an alternative method or at an alternative place under CPR 6.15. Since the only means by which the Claimant could bring the action to the attention of the Defendant was through restraining the active Instagram account through which the messages were sent, he said that that Instagram account could also be used as a means of serving the proceedings. If the identity of the Defendant were then discovered, and an address for service were available, then service thereafter could continue in the conventional manner.
While courts in common law jurisdictions have previously made orders allowing the service of proceedings via social media, including Twitter, and, (in the High Court) via Facebook, this is believed to be the first time that a court in England and Wales, or in the wider common law world, has made an order permitting service on Instagram.
While the legible reproduction of documents in the form of an Instagram image presents technical challenges, image-based social media seems in some ways a particularly appropriate method of bringing proceedings to the attention of a defendant.