27 Mar 2014

Family Court recordings posted online

7:54 pm on 27 March 2014

People unhappy with Family Court decisions who are posting secret recordings of the court's proceedings on the internet could be risking prosecution for contempt of court or defamation.

Lobby group New Zealand Family Court Consumers, which is encouraging people to put such recordings online, says it will bring much-needed transparency to a "sealed system".

Spokesperson Steve Taylor says without an independent complaints authority to hold judges, lawyers, social workers or psychologists to account, the internet is the only way for people to fight injustice.

Mr Taylor says he is aware of eight clips that have been published online so far, including court proceedings, lawyers' meetings and mediation, as frustrated complainants have no other way to tell their story. The clips have been posted by individuals, but he says his group supports their actions.

It is illegal to publish any details that could identify children or other vulnerable people involved. Family law Professor Mark Henaghan from Otago University says recording a meeting with a lawyer without their knowledge may not be illegal, but people who publish defamatory material could be sued.

Anthony Walsh, the Acting Principal Family Court judge, says the court depends on the confidentiality of its processes - and anything which undermines that is viewed seriously. The matter is being referred to the Ministry of Justice.

The chairperson of the Law Society's family law section, Garry Collin, says releasing selective information out of context could be damaging for everyone involved.

Mr Collin gave the example of allegations of sexual abuse being made against someone in court and published online, but later disproved.

The Family Court is already open to scrutiny and people who are unhappy with its decisions have the right to appeal, he says.

Steve Taylor says Family Court reforms that come into effect at the end of March are a step in the right direction, but need to go further.