A judge has criticised the “wrong” decision a family made to record social workers by putting recording devices on a child without her knowledge so they could hear her conversations with professionals and other family members.
Judge Jackson said the father had “not considered the consequences” of his actions during a dispute about whether the girl, referred to as Tara, should live with her father or move to live with her mother.
The long dispute between the parents had become serious enough to involve local authority social workers, family support workers and a children’s guardian.
Devices in clothes
Late in proceedings, it was revealed the father and step-mother had been recording these meetings by sewing small devices into Tara’s clothes and by using their phones. The father wanted to submit more than 100 pages of transcribed conversations dating back over a year.
The justification for recording was to find out what Tara was saying in meetings with professionals, the father felt she may tell social workers things she wouldn’t tell him, and “he wanted to be able to show that Tara was saying things to professionals that they were not reporting or acting on”.
In his judgment, Judge Jackson said: “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.” He said a comment like his should be added to the Cafcass Operating Framework section on this topic.
Jackson did however admit the evidence, and said: “The manner in which they were made is directly relevant to an assessment of the parenting offered by the father and his partner…From the time the recording programme was revealed, everyone involved in these proceedings, except the father and his partner, immediately realised that it was wrong.”
Envy of spies
The technology available to parents today “would be the envy of yesterday’s spies”, Jackson said.
He said the fact the father and partner recorded his child and her conversations without her knowledge was a “prominent” indicator that they could not meet her emotional needs.
“The mother was entitled to say that she objected to her daughter being brought up by someone who sewed recording devices into her clothing, something she described as “really disturbing””, Jackson said.
The recordings “did not produce a single piece of useful information”, but it further damaged the relationship between Tara and the adults in her life. The use of bugs also showed the father’s inability to trust professionals and created a secret that may affect the relationship between her and her father in the future when she understands what has happened, Jackson concluded.
He said the case was not relevant to covertly recording adults for family proceedings, or recording children in other ways. He references the Cafcass Operating Framework, which says “officers should have nothing to fear from covert recording, but should bring it to the court’s attention if they become aware of it”.
Last year, The Transparency Project found councils were “wrongly” citing data protection and human rights legislation to prevent parents from recording meetings with social workers.