Article written by Atifha Aftab, Solicitor, Family department
For very good reasons, unauthorised recording of any court proceedings, and particularly family hearings held in private, is strictly prohibited. In one case, an angry father received a stern judicial reminder of the strength of that embargo.
The father was engaged in bitter and long-running family proceedings concerning his children. He did not deny that he had made a series of sound recordings of hearings held in private and published excerpts online. The Attorney General’s response was to seek a finding of contempt of court against him. Such a finding can result in a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine or two years’ imprisonment.
He contended that he was unaware at the time that the proceedings were in private and that his mental health difficulties prevented him from appreciating that what he was doing was wrong. He pointed out that the recordings were published long after the conclusion of the relevant family proceedings and, on that basis, contended that the administration of justice had not been undermined.
Upholding the Attorney General’s application, however, the High Court found beyond reasonable doubt that he had, without permission, brought into court a device and used it to make covert sound recordings. Although he knew that the proceedings were being heard in private, he on three occasions uploaded videos containing excerpts of the recordings to YouTube.
In also finding that he intended to interfere with the due administration of justice, the Court noted that he used the recordings to paint a highly partial and partisan picture of the family proceedings and to level serious and unfounded allegations against the judge, barristers and others involved in the case. In doing so, he can only have had one aim: to undermine with spurious allegations the credibility of the court process in the eyes of the public at large.
To justify publication of the recordings, he contended that he had been subjected to pervasive corruption and institutional racism. However, the Court noted that it is no defence to a charge of contempt to say that relevant actions were carried out to expose alleged wrongdoing. The question of sentencing was adjourned for further argument.