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Use of secret recordings in family proceedings

Are secret recordings permissible?

In recent proceedings under the Children Act 1989 in the case of M v F (Covert Recording of Children) [2016] the Father disclosed that he had been making secret recordings, some of which involved placing recording devices on the child without her knowledge, for the purpose of gathering evidence.

The recordings were made between November 2014 and March 2016 using equipment provided by Father. Stepmother also bought bugs and sewed them into the child's clothing. Although the stepmother took most of the practical steps, both she and the Father acted as a team.

The recordings were allowed in the proceedings in spite of public policy considerations that such secret conduct should be discouraged.

The Judge assumed that the recordings were unlawful. They did not produce a single piece of useful information but significantly increased the length and cost of the hearing. Father had to pay to have the recordings transcribed and was ordered to pay the proportion of Mother's costs attributable to time spent on the recordings. That cost him around £11,000.

The judge did not prohibit the placing of covert recording devices on a child. However the consequences go well beyond simply the issues of how to handle a court case. Anyone who is considering doing something similar should be advised to think carefully about:-

  • Damaged relationships between the adults.
  • Creating a secret likely to damage the child's relationship with Father and Stepmother when she comes to understand what took place. This kind of behaviour can in fact have precisely the opposite effect from the one intended.
  • Demonstrating an inability to trust “the system” and the people working in it which may also be counterproductive.


Ian is the Senior Partner and Head of Family Law at SME Solicitors. Please contact him or Joanna Gardner for specialist help and advice in all aspects of family law at or

Added: 01 Jun 2016 11:54

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