Courts in India have started accepting service of documents sent through WhatsApp to be valid in certain situations. But the issue remains complex.
A major requirement for a WhatsApp document to be a valid court service is the ability to prove delivery. Traditionally, a clear paper trail was created through registered mail or in-person delivery to demonstrate that the intended recipient has received the documents. With WhatsApp, the challenge lies in establishing irrefutable evidence of delivery. However, WhatsApp offers features like read receipts and acknowledgment indicators, which can serve as evidence of delivery and receipt of documents.
When a recipient opens and reads a message, the sender can receive a read receipt, providing a timestamp as proof of delivery. And, if the recipient acknowledges receiving the message or responds to it, it further strengthens the case for the validity of WhatsApp documents as court service.
Verification mechanisms, such as digital signatures or encryption, can help ensure that the documents have not been tampered with and that they originate from the identified sender. Confidentiality of documents and service is another concern faced by courts, however, WhatsApp claims to incorporate end-to-end encryption.
There are many instances where courts have accepted service done via WhatsApp to be valid. The Delhi High Court set a precedent in 2017 in Tata Sons vs John Does, by allowing service of summons through WhatsApp after the defendants evaded service though regular modes. Thereafter, in SBI Cards and Payments vs Rohidas Jadhav, the Bombay High Court accepted the service of notice in an execution application after finding that the PDF file containing the notice had not only been served but the attachment had also been opened by the opposite party. Justice GS Patel observed, “I will accept this. I do so because the icon indicators clearly show that not only was the message and its attachment delivered to the respondent’s number, but that both were opened.”
Justice GS Patel at Bombay High Court in Kross Television vs Vikhyat Chitra Production has also held that the purpose of service is to put the other party to notice. Where an alternative mode (email and WhatsApp) is used and service is shown to be effected and acknowledged, it cannot be suggested that there was ‘no-notice’.
The Rohini Civil Court at Delhi in a case has also accepted the blue double-tick sign in a WhatsApp message as valid proof that the message’s recipients had seen a case-related notice.
The Supreme Court is yet to lay down a precedent or ruling accepting WhatsApp as valid medium of service. The acceptance of WhatsApp documents as valid court service is a complex issue that requires careful consideration of factors such as proof of delivery, acknowledgment, authentication and adherence to legal frameworks.
As Indian courts continue to navigate the digital landscape and embrace technology, it is essential for legal professionals and technology providers to work together to establish clear guidelines and standards that safeguard the integrity of court proceedings while embracing the efficiencies offered by modern communication platforms like WhatsApp. The courts incorporating WhatsApp as part of the legal service workflow demonstrates the industry’s commitment to adapting to the evolving needs of clients in an increasingly digital World.
(The author is Co-Founder, Treelife, a law firm)