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Is Anti-social media acceptable in Family cases?

Date posted: 22 October 2021

M A-G v HARTLEY (CONTEMPT) [2021] EWHC 2473 (FAM)

 

Contempt of court proceedings following publication by a father of information about family proceedings on Facebook.

 

In a recent case a father in private Children Act 1989 proceedings posted a number of videos on Facebook regarding the case. In the numerous video posts he was extremely abusive to officers of the family court and the judge.  He named the Judge, and CAFCASS officer, and published other confidential information from the case, as well as making abusive and misogynistic comments against all involved.  It was described as a “flagrant contravention of a court order and defiance of an Act of Parliament, to repeatedly publish information about the case on the internet”. Thousands of people had access to his posts.  He was ordered to remove the posts, but he refused to do so and then also ignored court orders requiring his attendance at Court.

 

The questions for the court were a) whether the father was guilty of contempt; and b) if so, what was the penalty.  The case was brought by the Attorney General and the burden of proof was to the criminal standard.

 

He was found guilty and was sentenced to 10 months (half to be served in prison) and ordered to pay a fine of £22,423. The costs were due to the number of hearings required due to his obstructive conduct.  On the sentence the Judge said: “It must be made very clear by the courts that to deliberately, and brazenly, flout the law prohibiting publication of family proceedings involving children will result in substantial punishment.”

 

The Judgement makes clear the importance that the rule of law is upheld.

 

“Cases in the family court involving children are heard in private. Nothing may be publicly reported without the leave of a judge. This is all made entirely clear by the Children Act 1989. It is a contempt of court to publish anything relating to such proceedings. That too is made entirely clear by section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960”

 

The case is a harsh but helpful reminder to practitioners and parties in Children Act proceedings of the repercussions for sharing information about the proceedings.

 

We specialise in providing advice and representation in Children Act proceedings. Please contact our Patricia Beckett at p.beckett@wilsonllp.co.uk for more details, or to arrange for an appointment, please call Mavis on 020 8885 7986