Social media revolution hits Ghana legal system: Court orders service to defendant on WhatsApp

WhatsAppThe Ghana legal system has been hit by the social media revolution as a High Court in Accra approves an application for substituted service by use of WhatsApp.

“WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. WhatsApp Messenger is available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia,” the developers write on the app’s website.

In an article titled, “The old order changeth and giveth way to the new: WhatsApp debuts as a means of substituted service in Ghana,” published in the Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal, Maame A.S. Mensa-Bonsu, states that in the recent case of Kwabena Ofori Addo v Hidalgo Energy and Julian Gyimah, the High Court of Ghana, sitting as its Fast Track Division in Accra, made an order that could revolutionise access to courts and therefore, justice in Ghana.

The article however, did not indicate the date the order was made.

“It approved an application for substituted service by use of the WhatsApp mobile application — an instant messaging application available for free download online,” she writes.

The article which looks at the implications of this development for procedural efficiency in Ghana’s judicial system, commends it as positive growth in Ghana law, which could be easily and successfully adopted by similarly situated Commonwealth jurisdictions.

According to the article, the order through WhatsApp became necessary when several attempts made to serve the defendants in a litigation resulting from a contract, fell through.

The article notes that the plaintiff and the defendant entered into a contract for the supply of furniture from Turkey. The contract negotiations were conducted entirely via WhatsApp. The parties fell out and the plaintiff took out a writ at the High Court. After several attempts to serve the defendants in vain, the plaintiff applied for the order in question.

The writer cites a common occurrence in Ghana where the service of a writ must ordinarily be personal, but often a defendant would be elusive, leading to significant delay.

The author also argues that the adoption of social media tools in Ghana’s legal system would not only cut down costs, but it would enable access to justice by most Ghanaians who also use mobile technology.

This is not the first time a court has ordered a service via social media tools.

In December 2008, the BBC reported that an Australian couple were served with legal documents via the popular social networking site Facebook.

In October, 2009 a Britain High Court ordered its first injunction via Twitter, saying the social website and micro-blogging service was the best way to reach an anonymous Tweeter who had been impersonating someone, Reuters reported. And then in April 2015, in what the Daily News of New York described as a landmark ruling, a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper allowed a nurse named Ellanora Baidoo to serve her elusive husband with divorce papers via a Facebook message.

The woman got the judge’s approval to legally change her relationship status to “single” via Facebook.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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