Chris Harris for The Times
Parents involved in family disputes are increasingly resorting to covert recordings of conversations in their battle for contact with children, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales has suggested.
Sir James Munby, president of the family division of the High Court and a Court of Appeal judge, said that covert recording had become a “much more pressing issue” in family courts in recent years. In some cases parents have placed recording devices covertly on their children and in others they have secretly recorded each other.
The judge blamed a greater availability of recording equipment and “widespread distrust” of the system and professionals.
His comments came in a written ruling in a Court of Appeal case in which a man embroiled in a dispute over a child with an estranged partner had made convert recordings of conversations with a social worker and solicitor.
“The courts have had to grapple with the legal and procedural issues generated by the stool pigeon, the eavesdropper and the concealed observer since time immemorial,” he said.
He added that covert recording was a “topic of growing significance” in family courts, with at least three categories: recordings of children, other family members and professionals.
However, whatever the nature of the recording, several issues were likely to arise such as to the lawfulness of what had been done, the admissibility of the recording in evidence and disputes over authenticity. “Who are the people who can be heard or seen on the recording? Has the recording been edited or cut and spliced?” Munby asked, adding that these questions all raised the potential need for expert evidence.
Munby said that it may also “be important to identify who is doing the recording and why. Covert surveillance and recording by the police and other agencies, including the security service, which in current conditions not infrequently impinges upon the family courts, is one thing. Covert surveillance and recording by others may … raise rather different issues.”