Court rejects father's application for disclosure of CCTV footage from mother's home
Home security cameras, or CCTV, are becoming ever more popular. Each year they record hundreds of hours of the goings-on in the family home.
But what if one separated parent is unhappy about what is going on in the other parent's home? Can they obtain footage from the cameras in their home?
The question was tested in a recent family court case.
"High conflict" contact dispute
The case concerned what the judge described as a "high conflict" contact dispute, with the father seeking contact with his two children, aged 6 and 3.
The central issues in the dispute were how often the children should spend time with their father, should this include overnight stays, and should the contact be supervised by a third party?
The mother, meanwhile, claimed that the father had been responsible for coercive and controlling behaviour, as well as emotionally abusive behaviour, towards her and the children.
The father applied to the court for disclosure of CCTV footage from CCTV cameras in the mother's home, during specific periods. The mother's home had no fewer than 29 Google Nest cameras in almost every room, which she said was for security reasons.
The background to the application was as follows.
The father suggested that the mother was preoccupied with knowing what was going on in her home at all times, and spent many hours reviewing the footage. He also said that she had used it as an evidence gathering device to support her case as to the father's behaviour towards her, the children and the family nannies. At an earlier hearing the court had allowed the mother to present to the court a number of short video clips which did demonstrate the sort of abusive behaviour the mother complained of.
The father also said, and this was not denied by the mother, that she also recorded the independent social worker who had been assigned to the case to report and recommend what order the court should make.
The independent social worker recommended that a sample of Google Nest footage extending over 72 hours should be downloaded and suitably edited by an expert, to provide evidence of parenting of the children in the mother's home by herself and the nannies.
In the light of this recommendation, the father made his application, seeking disclosure of considerably more footage from the cameras. The mother, on the other hand, claimed that the application was another example of his coercive and controlling behaviour.
Invasion of mother's privacy – disclosure of CCTV footage
When the application went before the court the mother's counsel argued that the disclosure of CCTV footage would be a gross, even grotesque, invasion of the mother's privacy, exacerbated by the background of her allegations of coercive and controlling behaviour.
In response it was argued on behalf of the father that the invasion of the mother's privacy would be mitigated by the fact that the footage would first be checked by the independent social worker, and only footage that he considered relevant to the case would actually be disclosed to the parties and the court.
The judge agreed with the mother. She was satisfied that disclosure on this scale would represent a gross invasion of the mother's right to privacy, and was unprecedented. There were also the children's and other adults' rights to be taken into account.
The independent social worker could carry on his investigations in the conventional way without the footage, and would be able to produce a meaningful report on basis of the other material available.
The judge concluded: "This application, if granted, would represent a fundamental departure in the way such cases are investigated. Whilst there may still be a case where such a departure would be justified I am not satisfied this is one of them."
So whilst the father's application was rejected, it is still possible that a similar application may be granted in the future.
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