Media Publication in Family Law Matters
Family Law Matters are stressful and upsetting for all parties involved, as such, there are certain laws in place to help protect the identity of those involved in family law proceedings in the public domain. The Family Law Act prohibits the publication in a newspaper, on the radio or television, or by any electronic means, or otherwise in the public domain, the identification of a party to family law proceedings, a witness in the proceedings or any other person concerned with the proceedings. A consequence of breaching this law is a maximum of a one-year jail term. The Act includes a broad definition of what it means by identifying a person, including but not limited to the publication of their address, physical description or employment.
Many may recall the case in October last year where the four Italian sisters removed from their mother’s care in Brisbane were ordered by the Family Court to return to live with their Father in Italy. The media attention was unprecedented, so much so that the editors of the Courier Mail (Brisbane) faced Court in May this year as a result of its coverage of the case, in particular the publishing of photos of the children’s faces (see http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/newspaper-editors-in-court-20130405-2hay1.html). The prosecution’s case against the Courier Mail for breaching the Family Law Act is still pending.
However, it is not only the main stream media who can get in trouble for publishing details of family law proceedings. With the ever-increasing popularity of social media, the Federal Circuit Court (renamed from the Federal Magistrates Court in June 2013) has also been forced to investigate the way involved parties are using social media, as in the case earlier this year. (see http://www.news.com.au/national-news/south-australia/federal-court-judge-warwick-neville-orders-investigation-into-fathers-facebook-posts/story-fnii5yv4-1226650225466).
While many family law decisions are published, the parties’ names are replaced with pseudonyms and the change of names and addresses throughout the decision are changed to overcome this prohibition and to protect the identity of the persons involved in the case.
If you want or need to view documents the subject of family law proceedings, you may do so by applying to the relevant Court to view the file however you must have a “proper interest” in the information you are seeking. The Court will consider this request having regard to the reason for seeking access and whether such reason is “reasonable”. The Court, if allowing access to the file, may place conditions on the level of access granted.
The Court can otherwise make an order allowing for certain documents in the proceedings to be disclosed to a specific person or entity, such as the children’s school or a counsellor or doctor.
It is important to keep these matters in mind to avoid being charged and/or convicted with a criminal offence. While it may not always be intentional, you may still be in breach of the Act if you disclose details of family law proceedings on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. Be very careful about what you share on social media!
If you have concerns about your situation or require more information about your rights and obligations please contact our team of specialist family lawyers on (02) 9635 6422.