Section 121 of the Family Law Act prohibits publication of the details of family law proceedings. Section 121(1) provides that:
“A person who publishes in a newspaper or periodical publication, by radio broadcast or television or by other electronic means, or otherwise disseminates to the public or to a section of the public by any means, any account of any proceedings, or of any part of any proceedings, under this Act that identifies:
- a person who is related to, or associated with, a party to the proceedings or is, or is alleged to be, in any other way concerned in the matter to which the proceedings relate; or
- a witness in the proceedings;
is guilty of an offence punishable, upon conviction by imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year.”
Parties need to be cautious as this section not only prohibits publication in the media but also “otherwise disseminates to the public or to a section of the public by any means”.
The Honorable Justice Morling held in Re Edelsten; Ex parte Donnelly (1988) 18 FCR 434 at 436 that:
“In the context of s 121 ‘disseminates to the public’ should be taken as a reference to widespread communication with the aim of reaching a wide audience. It cannot have been intended by the legislature that the restriction on dissemination should apply, for example, to conversations between a party to Family Court proceedings and a close personal friend.”
Whilst the case law suggests conversations with close personal friends regarding the proceedings may not be a breach of section 121, more public dissemination, such as social media posts, will generally be considered to be a breach.
Litigants should always be careful in what is being disclosed to third parties and act cautiously when discussing family law proceedings as the ramifications for a breach of section 121 of the Family Law Act can be serious.