Social media certainly has the capacity to get people into legal difficulties.
The High Court found last week that a tweet posted by Sally Bercow was libellous, and as a result, she is going to be paying out damages for those 140 costly characters posted on the Twitter website.
In the family law world last week, the Court of Appeal decided in a case called Re M, that a father should be sentenced to 3 months in prison, suspended for 2 years, because of a posting on his Facebook page. This parent had promised to the court during contact proceedings that he would not publish specific information on his Facebook page. He gave an undertaking to the court, and the court found that he had deliberately breached that undertaking.
Facebook is said to have 31 million monthly active users in the UK, half of the population, and so it is of course going to factor in many “facebook and family law” cases. I carried out a search for a few recent cases in family law which feature Facebook to give you an indication of the type of impact that this networking site is having on court cases, on a daily basis across the UK.
In a case in February called Re B* in the Court of Appeal, evidence was heard as to whether a father had or had not submitted a friend request to his daughter. The judge concluded that the father had sent the friend request, and that this one of various breaches by the father of injunctions made by the court, and as a result that he should be subject to a suspended three month prison sentence.
The case of B v A**, which came before the High Court at the end of last year, deals with an application by a father for a return of his child to the US from Pakistan. The father’s legal representatives relied on Facebook “evidence” to demonstrate to the court that the child might be brought to the UK by the mother, and asked the court to make an order that would restrict the mother’s liberty and freedom of movement. The “evidence” from Facebook was a photograph from the mother’s sister’s Facebook page, of a building which looked like an English university plus an entry which indicated that the mother might have visited a restaurant in Coventry. The father’s solicitors ultimately had to pay £18,000 of costs for wasting time once the mother had been able to prove she had not been to the UK on those occasions.
There is no doubt that now so much personal information is freely available from the Facebook pages of those involved in family proceedings and their family members and friends, this site will continue to play an active part in family court proceedings. It appears however from this small sample of cases that the courts are willing to act robustly when dealing with the use of social media in family law.
*ReB 2013 EWCA Civ 166
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