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Does social media have a place in family proceedings?

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It has to be said that the idea of social media influencing family proceedings is not only foreign but something that would be frowned upon as unacceptable. However, most children these days are using some sort of social media whether Facebook or Twitter. So it would seem natural that they would communicate their feelings via social media.

A Facebook site seems to be at the centre of a Hague Convention case where four young children want to stay with their mother in Australia but their father is seeking their return to Italy. The father has issued an application under the Hague Convention and as such if a child is removed from a signatory state where they have been living to another signatory state the child must be returned subject to some exceptions.

The mother’s case is that the father consented to the children living in Australia but the father says that he only gave permission for a holiday. The mother was ordered to return the children as her case did not stack up but just before the children were to be returned the children went into hiding. During this time a Facebook page was set up called “Kids without Voices” supposedly by the children to publicise their case. The children were subsequently taken into care and an application has now been made by a maternal relative on the basis that she argues the children were denied natural justice.

There are a lot of misconceptions in this case and the court does of course have to consider the wishes of the children. Whether the Judge reached the right decision in this case initially is a matter for discussion. He seemed to suggest that children aged between 7 and 14 had not reached sufficient maturity to make decisions that in itself is questionable.

So should social media be used to carry the voice of a child? Firstly, it is not clear who was actually running this site. Many posts were censored and the justification was to remove reference to court documents. It is highly likely that the site was not being run by the children. The site itself also attracted news coverage which led to misinterpretation of the case. The site even provided a page for people to donate to help the children's plight. So it seems to create a dangerous precedent albeit in Australia and not this country. In fact the idea of donations suggests some sort of political campaign.

I think there can be no other conclusion that social media has no place within family proceedings and I suspect that in this country an injunction would have been granted to prevent Facebook being used in this way and to protect the privacy of the proceedings.

By family law solicitor, Gillian Davies