We are often asked if it is okay to start recording children within court proceedings.
Technology makes it easy to do – chillingly so. The quickest of Google searches reveals bugging devices little larger than a £1 coin. Insert a sim card and then you can call into the bugging device and hear everything that is going on.
Using a mobile phone is even easier and almost all of us now carry mobile phones that are capable of recording conversations.
The ability to start recording children’s conversations is certainly there and there is no shortage of motivation to do so.
Why might a parent want to start recording children?
It is incredibly frustrating to be denied as much time with your children as you would like. That frustration is increased when agencies and the other parent tell you that your child is telling them the opposite of what they are telling you.
It can feel as though nobody is listening or, if they do listen, then they disregard what you say your child has told you.
You think “If only they heard my children say what I hear…” and the solution seems obvious.
And how do you do that?
Is recording children allowed?
We understand why the strong urge to record exists but we also know that the courts take a very dim view of parents who do so.
It can be hard to explain why the temptation should be resisted and so it was with some interest that we read this recently decided case exploring the covert recording of children.
If there is any doubt as to the court’s stance on recording children then you need read no further than the first line of the case report;
“It is almost always likely to be wrong for a recording device to be placed on a child for the purpose of gathering evidence in family proceedings whether or not the child is aware of its presence.”
Any reader should resist the temptation to interpret the above clear warning as suggesting that recording children by any means other than placing recording devices (bugs or wires) on children is acceptable. Sewing bugs into the hems of school blazers – as happened in this case – is one of the more extreme examples of recording children, but other examples should be similarly discouraged.
Leaving a recording app running on a mobile phone or tablet while having a conversation with your child or children is likely to be criticised just as much. By the way. trying to explain that you did not know the conversation was being recorded will not convince anybody.
Why recording children is “Almost always likely to be wrong”
In the reported case the Judge explained that the recordings were unhelpful in many ways;
- They further damaged relationships between the adults in the children’s lives
- They portrayed the father who had been doing the recording as being unable to trust professionals
- Critically, “It created a secret that may well affect [the child’s] relationship with her father when she comes to understand what has happened.
To our mind the second reason above is rather naive; it should be no surprise that parents involved in children proceedings might be distrusting of the professionals that they perceive are preventing them from seeing their children. The other two reasons are very strong.
The last one is particularly potent.
How will a child, who thought they were just having a conversation with a parent, then perceive that parent’s actions in having recorded the conversation and put it forward as evidence, usually against the other parent?
Is that not a betrayal of the child’s trust in his or her parent?
How might that jeopardise future relationships when that child is able to form opinions of how their parents have acted?
How might it undermine relationships between the child and non-recording parent if the child has been recording making some comment against that other parent – whether voluntarily or having been influenced to make such comment?
In the more extreme cases of planting bugs on children then the consequences can be even greater. It could result in the isolation of that child among his or her school peers and friends.
Ask yourself this; If you knew that a parent of a child at your children’s school was listening in and recording every conversations that child had with your child would you encourage your child to be friends with them? Or would you be cautious about that?
Would you warn your child to be careful about what they say to that other child, you know, just in case? Perhaps it would not be unreasonable to suggest to your child that they just steered clear of that other poor child for the time being.
Recording children; Should you do it?
Ultimately this is a decision you have to make.
Our clear recommendation is that you should resist the temptation to do so no matter how strong or how justified it feels.
Recording children is likely to be counter-productive. It provides an opportunity for the other parent to suggest that the recording says more about you than it does about the children.
The courts have always been slow to admit recordings as evidence, not least so that the practice of recording children is not encouraged. This judgment helps to underline the court’s stance in this regard.
The challenge is that parents who feel the need to record their children’s conversations – either with phones or by more extreme measures – are often able to convince themselves that their situation justifies taking such steps. The problem is that it is usually impossible to persuade anybody else that such infringements of a child’s privacy or of their fundamental trust in his or her parents is justified.
Let us help you.
If you or somebody you know is worried about their partner recording children, or if you are wondering what you can do instead of recording your children then get in touch with us here at Diane Genders Solicitors, specialist family and divorce lawyers based in Lincoln.
You can call us on 01522 516500 or contact us by clicking here and ask to speak to or meet with one of our experienced lawyers.