An Australian debtor couple have been served with legal documents through the popular social networking site Facebook, in a ground-breaking move.

Mark McCormack, a lawyer in Canberra, persuaded a court to allow him to use the unconventional method after attempts to serve the couple with papers relating to the repossession of their home by other means failed.

The couple’s home is being repossessed after they reportedly missed payments on a loan of over A$100,000 ($67,000; £44,000).

It is believed to be the first time Facebook has been used in this way.

Mr McCormack says he resorted to Facebook to trace the couple after several attempts to contact them at their home address and via email met with no success, and their failure to attend a court appearance on the 3rd October.

He found the woman’s profile page, and used details listed there such as her date of birth to prove to the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court that she was the person in question. Her partner was listed as one of her “friends”.

In granting McCormack the permission to use the social networking site, the judge made a stipulation that the papers be sent via a private email so that other people visiting the page would not be able to read their contents, thus protecting the privacy of the couple in question.

“It’s somewhat novel, however we do see it as a valid method of bringing the matter to the attention of a defendant,” Mr McCormack said.

He said he thought courts would probably use Facebook more often in future, as long as they were sure the message was reasonably likely to be read by those concerned.

Australian courts have previously granted permission for people to be served with legally binding papers via email or even text message, but this is the first time that Facebook has been allowed to be used for this purpose.