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Publishing Proceedings

Unlike many other areas of law, whether it be in a civil or criminal jurisdiction, the content of family law proceedings are confidential and cannot be publicised. Indeed, it is an offence under section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) to publish, in any way, any identifying information relating to proceedings before the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court.

Section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) provides for the following:

  • A person who publishes in a newspaper or periodical publication, by radio broadcast or television or by other electronic means, or otherwise disseminates to the public or to a section of the public by any means, any account of any proceedings, or of any part of any proceedings, under this Act that identifies:
    • a party to the proceedings;
    • a person who is related to, or associated with, a party to the proceedings or is, or is alleged to be, in any other way concerned in the matter to which the proceedings relate; or
    • a witness in the proceedings;

commits an offence punishable, upon conviction by imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year.

Mainstream media and journalism is the most obvious area of society that needs to be wary of section 121 in respect to what is published in relation to family law proceedings. However, parties to the proceedings should also be aware that publishing information on social media about their own family law matter online is a breach of section 121. As set out in section 121, it is not just the parties directly involved in the proceedings who need to aware of the obligation to keep proceedings confidential as the words “a person who is related to, or associated with, a party to the proceedings or is, or is alleged to be, in any other way concerned in the matter to which the proceedings relate.

In order to prevent information about family law proceedings being disseminated to the public, the following measures are put in place:

  • When 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 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. Otherwise, the court documents (even those owned by the party) should not be shared to other persons.
  • The Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court are closed courts, that is, unless you are a party to the proceedings you cannot enter the court room. The court room cannot be filmed or recorded in any way by the public when it is in session.

If you would further information about confidentiality in family law proceedings, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family law team.

Image Credit – Rvlsoft ©

Written by Bree Staines on July 18, 2017

Bree has a long held passion for family law, as she believes the law can be a mechanism to achieve positive and just change and resolutions for her clients. The diligence Bree puts into her work ensures she is always has a comprehensive understanding of the law and will be striving to achieve her client's goals, both efficiently and cost effectively. View Bree's profile

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