Father jailed and fined for contempt of court, following publication of Children Act proceedings on social media

For the majority of us sharing personal information on social media is now part of everyday life, but there are boundaries that should never be crossed, especially in a court of law. In a recent case M A-G v Hartley (contempt) [2021] EWHC 2473 (FAM), the repercussions of his online actions were considerable for Mr Hartley.

Whilst most of us would apply common sense and choose not to share personal information about our court proceedings, one father chose to take to Facebook and post a number of videos regarding his case. The content, which was highly abusive towards the judge and officers of the family court, also revealed confidential information about the case. The sharing of confidential information which could be accessed by thousands of people on social media 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”.

The predominant rule in private Children Act proceedings is that that the proceedings are entirely confidential in order to protect the people involved in the case, particularly the children. “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.”

Despite being ordered to remove the posts from Facebook, Mr Hartley refused and subsequently ignored all court orders requiring his presence at court. This left the court with two questions: 1) whether the father was guilty of contempt; and 2) if so, what was the penalty?

Mr Hartley was found guilty and sentenced to 10 months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of £22,423 which was entirely due to the number of hearings required because of his obstructive conduct. Upon sentencing, 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.”

This recent judgement serves as a stark reminder to all parties involved in Children Act proceedings of the possible penalties attached to the illegal sharing of information. You are not even allowed to discuss your case or show any documentation to your family and friends so if you are soon to be involved in a case and are unsure about whether or not you can share information or discuss it with anyone, please do check with your legal representation first.

Here at Sheryl Perry Solicitors, we frequently represent clients in private Children Act proceedings and we are here to give you the best legal advice and representation to support you. With professional expertise in family law, you can be assured of our commitment to your case. If you would like to book a 30-minute free and confidential discussion to find out how we can help you, please contact us today.

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