"Our systems move with infuriating slowness — glaciers melt faster than service through the Sheriff’s office." - Justice Gautam Patel, Bombay High Court
Expressing concern over difficult and arcane procedures for serving notices, Justice Gautam Patel of the Bombay High Court had recently emphasised the need to simplify processes. Just last week, Justice Patel took a step towards this by upholding that a notice served via WhatsApp is acceptable.
A legal notice is served to inform the opposite party that the matter is being taken to court. The Code of Civil Procedure lays down the manner in which a legal notice can be served.
Traditionally a legal notice is physically delivered to the party. Over time, the law has allowed legal notices to be served over email. Last year, Justice Patel, in Kross Television’s case, had also upheld a notice served via WhatsApp but in that case, the party had responded to the text message.
In the SBI Cards and Payment Services case last week, just the blue tick did the job.
SBI Cards and Payment Services had stated that Rohidas Jadhav had been evading service of a notice. An authorised officer of SBI Cards and Payment Services then sent Jadhav a WhatsApp text with the details of the case as an attachment.
Justice Patel pointed out that since the WhatsApp icon – the double-tick – was blue and indicated that the message was received and read, the notice will be considered to be served.
What If the Settings Are Disabled?
Such rulings are encouraging but what happens where someone has disabled their WhatsApp settings to not reflect the blue-tick? In such cases, can a notice be said to have been served, Anand Desai, managing partner at law firm DSK Legal pointed out.
In such cases, will the communication of the relevant material deemed to have been adequately completed for a court to assume service and pass an order, he added.
"Further, I can see this being misused, unless courts lay down some checks and balances. There could be situations where the opposite party’s name is saved against a random or incorrect number, the notice is served on that number and a printed copy of such a screenshot is placed before the court. What forms part of the court record is a printout of how service was effected." - Anand Desai, Managing Partner, DSK Legal
Courts will have to insist that the serving party files an affidavit that the notice was served on the opposite party’s number and that number has been verified, Desai said.
In March this year, the Delhi High Court too had permitted a petitioner to serve summons over email, text message and WhatsApp after filing an affidavit that the phone number belonged to the opposite party.
(This article has been published in an arrangement with BloombergQuint.)
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