Keep others honest and yourself humble – it’s legal to record your phone conversations, without disclosing the fact

clip-art-telephone-096558

In New Zealand, that is. Do NOT rely on this if you are outside New Zealand.

 

In general terms, if you are on a phone call to someone else, you may record that call. Except in special circumstances (e.g. if you are a member of a profession with a specific ethical code that requires disclosure, or if specific contractual provisions apply), you are not required to disclose the fact that you are recording.

 

Do not expect government agencies, or professionals, to be happy about the fact that you are recording.  It will increase their suspicion of you. It may be held against you if they are assessing your attitude. (That can be a good reason not to tell them.  However, if they specifically ask whether you are recording, do not lie. Instead, tell them you are recording, show them this blog, and invite them to make their own recording as well.)

 

Reputable, competent and informed professionals will not object if you disclose that you are recording.

I have learnt from the experiences of some of my clients. I now recommend to many clients that they routinely record interviews and phone conversations with professionals and agencies, such as social workers, teachers, medical staff, and anyone else where an issue may arise about what was said. The System can be too ready to believe other members of The System.

A client may subsequently need to prove that they were indeed given particular advice that proved to be unwise (and that is subsequently denied by the advice giver or their employer).  Or that they did not say something. Or that they did. Or that the social worker (or other professional) did or did not say something.

However, recording interviews and phone calls can also enable the lawyer to provide better advice to the client. The client does not always accurately remember (or relate) the conversation. If a crucial call or meeting was recorded, the client and/or lawyer can listen to the recording and, if necessary, gently correct any misunderstanding, before the misunderstanding creates a new problem. A client who is humble enough to accept that they may perhaps have been mistaken, and who agrees to check this before escalating a conflict, should be applauded.

It is reasonable for a lawyer to insist on listening to the recording herself before quoting or using it on a client’s behalf. This expense is insignificant compared to the cost of unnecessarily prolonged proceedings. The lawyer may also identify reasons why using the recording in evidence could backfire, even if the client believes it helps their case.

Just knowing that the recordings are there if needed can help boost a client’s confidence in dealing with agencies. There should be no need to retrieve the recording – unless a dispute arises about what happened.

However, if a client records phone calls or interviews, the existence of such recordings may subsequently have to be disclosed to the court and to other parties, if the recordings are relevant to legal proceedings. The content of the recordings may also have to be disclosed, unless there is a basis to claim confidentiality or privilege.  It is also illegal to destroy recordings (or other documents) that may be relevant to legal proceedings. Wise clients keep this in mind and ensure nothing is said in a recorded call that may reflect adversely on the client.  In many situations it is wise not to volunteer the fact that such recordings exist, especially if there will be no routine procedural ‘discovery’ requirement.

Covert recording may backfire if a party is trying to ‘set up’ or ‘entrap’ another party by asking leading questions or trying to manipulate a conversation.

Even if no such entrapment occurs, covert recording may also be interpreted as breaching a relationship of trust and confidence. Do not covertly record a conversation with your spouse!  Consider how the other person will react if they learn you have been recording and you have not disclosed it at the time. Knowing you have a legal right to do something does not always prevent negative consequences if someone objects. Use discretion and judgment.

Finally, making the recording is one thing. Disclosing its contents to a third party is a different matter.  Legal privilege allows anything to be disclosed in confidence to a lawyer for the purposes of obtaining legal advice. Disclosure to anyone else who was not a party to the recorded conversation may breach privacy laws or incur liability for defamation or breach of confidence, or even criminal liability in some instances.  Caution is advised.

I repeat – this article broadly reflects New Zealand law. Elsewhere the law may be different. Even within New Zealand, the general information in this article may not fit your own specific circumstances. Exceptions exist that have not been mentioned here. This article should not be relied on as legal advice.

 

Cheryl Simes

Prisoners don’t cease to be parents

dreamstime_xl_40788456

A prison inmate has the same legal status as any other parent/guardian.

So a serving prisoner may apply for parenting orders or orders involving guardianship disputes.  A prisoner may also defend applications for such orders.

If a Family Court judge (or registrar) agrees that the interests of justice require the prisoner to attend court in person, the prisoner may have to pay the reasonable expenses incurred in facilitating this.  I say ‘may’ because  I do not accept that this is compulsory in every instance.

I have been told that such costs are recoverable from Legal Aid as a disbursement. From a colleague’s recent experience, the main difficulty seems to be in obtaining timely information from the prison as to the amount that needs to be deposited.

This will be a greater challenge in non-urgent Care of Children Act proceedings where, in initial stages, parties are required to represent themselves and cannot have lawyers acting for them, and are not eligible for legal aid.

Section 65 of the Corrections Act 2004 specifies that, in a civil proceeding (i.e. not a criminal proceeding), any person who applies for an order to produce the prisoner to court must pay those costs.

Contrary to the belief of some practitioners and judicial officers, the statute does not say that the prisoner must pay the costs. It imposes the obligation on the party who applies to have the prisoner brought to court.

The prisoner could be needed as a witness, rather than as a party. If a witness is required for cross-examination, it is the party who filed the witness’s affidavit who becomes responsible for ensuring the witness is available for cross-examination. This is usually done by applying to the court for a witness summons, and then serving the summons along with specified witness expenses.

The order to produce a prisoner is similar to that summons. It is the party who seeks to rely on the prisoner’s evidence who will apply for the order to produce the prisoner. It may indeed be the prisoner, but only if they are a party to the proceedings.

I am aware of two recent cases – both involving prisoners who were parties to the proceedings – where neither party applied to the court for an order to produce the prisoner.

In the first case, I suggested that the court could make an order of its own motion, if the judge considered it necessary in the interests of justice for the prisoner to be present. (The judge declined. It was too soon to say whether the prisoner’s attendance was required.)

In the second case, the presiding judge made the order so that the hearing could proceed, and minuted the expectation that the prisoner would pay the relevant costs.

With great respect to the presiding judge, I consider the latter minute may have been misguided.

The statute only requires ‘the person applying’ to pay the costs.

If the order is made on the court’s initiative, that section ought not to apply.

At least, that’s my interpretation. I confess I have not (yet) checked for any case law on this. One day, in my spare time, just for fun,….

Cheryl Simes (Kiwilaw)

(Originally posted on 13 December 2015. Now transferred to a different page.)

Bemused family lawyer? Let’s start at the beginning… with the Interpretation Act 1999

Want to meddle with the Official Forms? Or use discretion to make two parenting orders instead of one? Or set clear contact or changeover times in Family Court orders?  Help is at hand. You need not wander, lonely as a dog, over a riverbed, chasing a rainbow…

Introducing…not Superman, but the Interpretation Act 1999 (drum roll, please)

‘I haven’t read the Interpretation Act,’ said someone who should have known better. I won’t identify him, for fear of causing significant offence. The comment was made in conversation following a chance meeting. (Doesn’t everyone discuss the Interpretation Act, in chance meetings?)

It had already become distressingly apparent to me that many family lawyers had not read (or at least understood) the Interpretation Act 1999.  Some had been appointed to the bench and had still not read it.

Please do, if you practise family law in New Zealand. Or if you adjudicate on it. It may save you some embarrassment, as well as saving the taxpayer (or private clients) some money.

The Interpretation Act helps with interpretation of statutes – including the Care of Children Act 2004.  It also helps with interpretation of delegated legislation (what used to be called regulations), including the Family Courts Rules 2002.

There is more to it than the celebrated introductory sections of the Interpretation Act – about purposes and principles – to which the bench and bar regularly refer.

There are three later sections that particularly interest me – relating to singular/plural meanings, time (the meaning of ‘from’), and the potential to adjust prescribed forms. Sound riveting? Read on….

Words in the singular include the plural (and vice versa)

Within the Interpretation Act, my favourite section is section 33.  It provides that, unless the context otherwise requires, words in the singular include the plural, and vice versa. So ‘parenting order’ means also ‘parenting orders’. ‘Interim order’ includes also ‘interim orders.’ ‘A directions conference’ means also ‘Several directions conferences’.

Thus, unless the context otherwise requires:

  • COCA section 48 may refer to more than one parenting order (thus allowing split orders?)
  • FCR rule 416U(5) may allow more than one ‘directions conference’ on the without-notice track (while not allowing any other type of conference)

It is not difficult.

Yet, taking one of the above issues as an example, to date there have been at least four Family Court decisions on whether ‘split orders’ are available (i.e. a final day-to-day care order with an interim contact order, or vice versa): two for and two against. There are at least two commentaries: one for and one against. (Contact me for details.) None of those decisions or commentaries mention the Interpretation Act.

There is now a High Court decision pending.

In my respectful submission, the intervention of the High Court should not be needed, in order to draw the attention of the family bench and bar to a basic tool of statutory interpretation.

‘From’ does not equate to ‘beginning on/in’

I cannot pretend that I do not know about section 35(2). I cannot say that I ‘like’ it. It makes life unduly complicated.

Section 35(2) equates ‘from’ with ‘after’.  (Now read that again. Yes. ‘After’.)

Contrast this with common parlance where ‘from’ equates to ‘beginning on’.

I once tried to interest a Family Court judge in the statutory definition of ‘from’, when attempting to interpret a Family Court order. The learned judge was singularly unimpressed.

Admittedly, the Interpretation Act applies only to legislation, not to court orders. (I have since learnt that case law applies similar principles to court orders, contracts and other documents.)

Applying section 35(2) of the Interpretation Act would mean that ‘From 1 February’ meant ‘Beginning the day after 1 February’, and ‘From March’ meant ‘Beginning in April’. ‘From the first week of the school holidays’ would mean ‘beginning on the first day of the second week of the school holidays’.

I have not found case law considering this issue in the specific context of a Family Court order. The issue has arisen in disputes about other types of documents. In those cases the governing factor is whatever the context implies, with preference – if the context does not imply otherwise – for the same meaning as above.

Personally I now try to avoid using ‘from’ in a parenting agreement or proposed parenting order. It is too ambiguous. Children do not need their parents to be confused by ambiguous wording in a document that is intended to make life easier for the children by spelling out clear arrangements.

And I long for a High Court decision that spells out the default meaning of ‘from’ in a Family Court order. Because somebody needs to sort this out.

Prescribed forms may be altered (don’t let the bureaucrats bully you)

Soon after the 2014 Family Court ‘reforms’ were introduced, I was driving over the Kaimais (from Hamilton to Tauranga) after filing urgent without-notice applications in Hamilton for a protection order and interim parenting order. The Family Court manager phoned to tell me my applications ‘could not be processed’ because I had failed to provide a separate ‘information sheet’ for each application.

Prior to the ‘reforms’, one filed a single ‘information sheet’ which covered all applications being filed at the same time. It had not dawned on me that the bureaucrats who devised the ‘reforms’ now expected lawyers or parties to compile two different, separate ‘information sheets,’ containing the same information, when making urgent and potentially life-saving applications to the Family Court in tight timeframes.

I was not going to drive back to my office to compile a second form that added nothing to the information already provided. Nor was I going to allow this to wait until the next day.

Fortunately, I knew the Information Act would ride to the rescue.  I informed the hapless manager that I was currently driving over the Kaimais, and I did not know the section number, but somewhere in the Information Act was a section that meant you didn’t have to use the prescribed form as long as you provided the same information.

Bless him, he shortly rang me back to say he was processing the applications.

That was section 26. My paraphrase to the manager was a bit rough but not too far off. Under section 26, minor differences in the form were acceptable as long as the form still had the same effect and was not misleading.

Does the same reasoning apply to the ‘approved forms’ in COCA proceedings, referred to in FCR 416?  I am unaware of any decisions on that specific point.  I would however be astonished if any court ruled otherwise, once section 26 was drawn to the judge’s attention.

And I will leave it there, for now.  Comments, anyone?

 

Cheryl Simes (Director/Lawyer, Kiwilaw)