In a small move with a big impact, a court in Singapore allowed the WhatsApp messaging system on a smartphone to be used to notify a defendant of a civil suit after failed attempts to serve the court papers on him personally.
State Courts deputy registrar Georgina Lum had earlier this month approved the application by R&D Pharmaceuticals to recognize transmission by WhatsApp as "sufficient" to show that the defendant it sued had received the documents.
The company had sued business associate Tan Chong Min, 53, for the return of an alleged $43,000 friendly loan. Under court rules, the court documents have to be served on the defendant personally unless exempted or if an alternative means is authorized by the court.
Such attempts can be unsuccessful for reasons such as the defendant being untraceable.
R&D's lawyer Vijai Parwani had made repeated attempts to serve the papers at Mr Tan's last known address in Dunearn Road.
Lawyers say the purpose of such alternative services is to avoid delay and expense in bringing a reluctant party to court to settle the case.
In the current civil case - believed to be the first where WhatsApp has been used - R&D had argued that using such a messaging system linked to his mobile phone was the most effective way of bringing the suit papers to his notice, as its director had been corresponding with Mr Tan through WhatsApp from October last year to August this year. Mr Tan had replied to the director in all these messages.
The court order, statement of claim and other documents were served on Mr Tan via WhatsApp on Oct 6.
As Mr Tan failed to enter an appearance to defend the case within the deadline, a default judgment was entered against him on Monday by the court.
Lawyers say the use of electronic online platforms in Singapore to carry out "substituted service", or an alternative way to serve court documents on someone being sued, is in its infancy and modification and safeguards will follow as the case law develops.
In May, the High Court of Singapore allowed papers by a plaintiff to be served via e-mail on an Australia-based defendant sued for copyright breach. He could not be reached personally as he was not found at the given address after permission was obtained to serve the papers there. In addition, the court said for the first time that Facebook, Skype and Internet message boards can be used for such purposes.
"As technology advances, newer and more effective electronic methods to effect substituted service will undoubtedly arise. It may be well true that the message to those who intend to evade service is that 'You can run, but you can't hide'," wrote law graduates Benjamin Tham and Yuen Kit Kuan in a SingaporeLawBlog commentary in July.