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When "friends" are more than just electric...

As if being the “star” of an Oscar-winning film (The Social Network) was not enough, social networking website “Facebook” has now made an "appearance" in the Liverpool District Registry of the High Court. A decision of Andrew Edie QC, Locke v Stuart and AXA was concerned with what was (successfully) alleged by AXA to have been a staged road traffic accident.

A not insignificant proportion of the decision deals with the matters arising from the three bundles(!) of print-outs of pages on Facebook. These were the personal (although publicly accessible) pages of individuals thought to be connected in some way with the accident or with other accidents in the group of claims originally intended to be tried at the same time as Locke (none of the remainder proceeding to trial). Through reliance upon the fact that some of these individuals were “friends” on Facebook, AXA intended to demonstrate the existence of links between them.  

Whilst the decision itself was unsurprisingly hugely fact-sensitive, wider interest in the judgment arises from the guidance given as to the manner in which Facebook evidence should be dealt with, this presumably being equally applicable in cases involving other social networking websites.

In summary, this was as follows. Agreement should be reached as to the inferences that in principle can and cannot be drawn from the sort of information that appears on Facebook pages . A document (capable of wider use in similar cases) should be prepared.

Further, a document akin to a Scott schedule should show which facts and inferences relating to the evidence are agreed and which are not, this allowing only the necessary material to be placed before the Court. The starting point for such a discussion should usually be a witness statement, identifying the links contended for and the extent to which it is contended that they might be of significance. This statement should include proper concessions as to the limits of the evidence where appropriate to do so.

Finally, it is worth noting the comments as to the inappropriateness of including within the material used at trial documents that are inferentially suggestive of fraud on the part of identifiable individuals in the absence of justifiable reasons for so doing. The decision is therefore undoubtedly worthy of consideration by anyone involved in the running of cases that might feature such material at trial.


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