It is unsurprising that some parents who lose their children to adoption feel that they have suffered a grave injustice. As a High Court ruling showed, however, those who undermine the privacy of such proceedings with a view to giving public vent to their frustration are likely to feel the full force of the law.
The case concerned a father who made a covert audio recording of a private Family Court hearing which culminated in a final adoption order being made in respect of his child. He later disposed of the recording to an individual who posted it on YouTube, together with other material relating to the proceedings.
The post referred to the name of the child at least three times and was accompanied by rolling text which made serious allegations about the integrity of the proceedings and the honesty of professionals involved. The father subsequently asserted, amongst other things, that the hearing was a sham.
After the Solicitor General launched proceedings seeking his committal to prison for contempt of court, the High Court noted that there is arguably no category of case which is more sensitive and private than one involving the adoption of a young child. The public identification of children involved in such cases may threaten the security and emotional stability of their placements.
In upholding the Solicitor General’s application, the Court observed that to covertly record an adoption hearing, in defiance of the long-established principle of privacy in such cases, is a most serious act of contempt, made all the worse by subsequent publication. The Court was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the father had recorded the hearing in the knowledge that it was being held in private.
To give him an opportunity to obtain legal representation, the question of sanction was deferred to a later hearing. The maximum penalties for contempt of court are two years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both.