Court opens can of spam

A judge in the High Court (UK that is) ruled that email is a valid means to serve up lawsuits, which is going to create a real mess. The issue came up because an email-based service of process got caught in a spam filter, resulting in what was essentially a default judgement when the defendent was late to appear.

Now there is grand legal strategy in the making, and it could cost the legal system its credibility. If I was a legal machine, and I wanted to sue someone and win, here’s what I’d do…

I’d buy an nice new box, and install Linux/Sendmail/SpamAssassin on it. I’d run all the updates. Then, I would draft my lawsuit notice, and send it via email, relaying it through said machine. I would tweak the wording, headers, and so forth until in no longer made it though the spam filter.

Then I would serve it up to my opponent. Default judgement, there you go.

If this legal decision makes its way to the States, however, the issue could get even stickier. Someone sends you a lawsuit notice via email. You deem it harrassment, and call the FBI for help.

Government officials never understand why their systems are so mucked up – but they do it to themselves.


I used to work for a company called LawPlus. It served up legal documents electronicly, but it was not over the open internet. I dont see how you can serve an electronic legal document with out verification that it is secure and that it was dilivered. You really need 100% certnatly that it was dilivered…

The following invalidates the idea of serving first notice of a lawsuit via email (something not likely to happen anyway), and it conspicuously leaves open for discussion the problems that will arise when using email for legal correspondence: what to do about spam filters?

Note from the news at ChannelRegister:

The fact that the emails did not reach the relevant members of staff was an “internal failing” but did not affect the validity of service.

John MacKenzie, a partner at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said: “When email first emerged there were concerns about whether it was ‘writing’ at all. This case demonstrates the almost uniform acceptance of email as a form of communication.”

He said it also shows that if you have an email address, the inbox needs to be carefully checked. This includes generic addresses such as ‘admin@’ and ‘info@’, as in this case.
“Not all court documents can be served by email due to specific court rules, but there can be other important notices that may be missed if the inbox is not checked,” added MacKenzie.

Scottish court actions cannot be served by email. In England, email service is possible but only when there is written consent to this from the other party in advance, according to the Civil Procedure Rules. Accordingly, if a British business receives a court action “out of the blue” by email, it could generally argue that service has not been affected.

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