Mother admonished for showing child court papers to police

It is sadly not unusual for the police to be involved when a family separates, particularly when there are allegations of domestic abuse.

But what if there are ongoing court proceedings relating to a child of the family? What court papers can be shown to the police?

The question arose in a recent High Court case.

The case concerned a father’s application for contact with his child. The mother made a number of allegations of domestic abuse against the father.

The court held a fact-finding hearing, at which ten of the allegations were found to be proved.

Notwithstanding this, the court ordered that the father should have contact with his child.

Sometime after this the mother made a complaint to the police that the father was harassing her. The police visited her and she showed certain documents from the court proceedings to the police, including a Cafcass report.

Finding out about this, the father sought to bring proceedings against the mother for contempt of court, by breaching the rules as to what documents she could disclose to the police.

As the judge himself complained, the rules covering what parties can lawfully disclose to the police are extremely complicated, and we will not attempt to set them out in full here.

In simple terms, the rules say that unless the court has permitted wider disclosure only the judgments and orders of the court may be shown to the police. Other court documents, such as Cafcass reports, may not be shown to police officers, unless they are specialist child protection officers (which they were not in this case).

After carefully weighing all of the relevant factors, the judge refused the father permission to bring contempt proceedings against the mother, for a number of reasons that need not be listed here.

However, the judge did admonish the mother for her conduct, explaining that it was absolutely forbidden for her to show the (non-specialist) police officers any documents from the contact proceedings, other than judgments or orders. If she wanted to do so then she needed to obtain an order from the court allowing it. That is what the law says, and that is the law that must be obeyed.

Contempt of court is a serious matter, which could result in a prison sentence. Obviously things could have ended much worse for the mother in this case.

The lesson is clear: if in doubt as to what court documents you may show to the police, take legal advice.

You can read the full judgment here.

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