Landmark court ruling on e-mails

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HARARE – The High Court of Zimbabwe has passed a landmark ruling allowing the electronic service of court documents following a challenge by a local law firm.

The ruling was handed down last week after Riana Moss from Scanlen and Holderness applied to the High Court to serve summons by way of e-mail to respondents resident in Zambia.

High Court judge Maxwell Takuva granted Moss’ application, ruling that service can be done electronically, after convincing the court that service of court papers through the traditional ways had failed.

Moss made the application in a case in which her client, Afrigrain Trading Limited, was claiming
$52 816 from Zameer Civils and Edmund Chigwedere, both resident in Zambia.

Afrigrain lost money to Zameer Civils and Chigwedere following a botched maize deal.

According to the agreement, the maize was to be delivered to Zimbabwe by the two respondents.

In the application Moss cited international and regional case law from India, Canada and a South African.

The traditional ways were for Zameer Civils and Chigwedere to collect court papers from the Zambian Sheriff following a notification or receive documents through correspondence to their physical address.

However, Moss said there were numerous advantages of serving documents electronically.

“They relate to decreased costs, time efficiency and actual notice (as opposed to publication in a newspaper) but it is imperative to pre-empt and guard against the potential abuse which it brings.

“I would suggest the creation of an independent public office or the partnering with a private independent office, one akin to the Sheriff’s office, which would have the exclusive mandate to service by way of e-mail, if and when authorised by the court to do so,” Moss said.

Zameer Civils and Chigwedere’s lawyers had opposed and challenged the legality of serving summons through e-mail.

They, however, both submitted the respondents had read the e-mail on October 22, 2013, the day before the hearing. They intended to oppose the matter by filing opposing papers.

Moss, however, successfully convinced the court that it should not be concerned with whether or not the respondents read and understood the contents of the e-mail because what matters was proof that the e-mail was operative and utilised by respondents.

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