Today most households have access to the internet and use social media such as Facebook Twitter, YouTube, Instagram or participate in online forums. Many members of the public will use the internet to ‘discuss how they are feeling’ and to express their disdain. These comments may be available to friends, friends of friends or even the general public. Once a comment is published on the internet it can remain there for a long time after it is deleted, possibly forever. Although a comment may be deleted with the click of a button it can be retrieved and may have been copied by a member of the public before being deleted.
The bottom line is that once you publish something on the internet you lose control over it. On the internet items can be copied, onforwarded and even retrieved long after being deleted.
Although most Family Law Court sessions are open to the public Section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 restricts the publication of Court proceedings. This means that a person is guilty of an offence if they publish or disclose to the public any account of proceedings which identifies a party to the proceedings. Upon conviction of such an offence the person may be imprisoned.
In the midst of litigation it may be tempting to post a comment on matters before the Court but this is clearly unwise. There have been a number of cases where a person who has done so was found to have contravened Section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975.
In one instance the father in a family law dispute created an internet website where he identified details of the proceedings between him and his wife in the Court. He also named the parties in the matter and uploaded photographs of lawyers and experts involved in the proceedings. Those parties were identified under the heading “List of Corrupt Legal Professionals”. The Court found that the father was responsible for the material published on the website. The Court was satisfied that Section 121 of the Act had been breached.
The fact that the details were published on the internet and remained “published” and thereby available for any person, anywhere in the world to access at any time of the day or night on an ongoing basis led the Court to believe there was a need for injunctive restraint.
It was noted by the judge that “publication on the internet is quite different to one of publication on television or a radio program or any paper article where the publication is limited in time and place.
The Court also considered that the public attack on the integrity of the lawyers representing the mother and children was “deliberately intended to intimidate them into ceasing to act for the mother and the children and to act as a deterrent to others from so acting.