Tenison Between Family Law Privacy Rights & the Open Court Principle

January 21, 2016
Leisha Murphy

In the recent case of Chellappa v. Kumar 2016 BCCA 2, the BC Court of Appeal had the opportunity to address what it termed “the tension between the open court principle and a litigant’s privacy rights in a family law case”. This tension arose as a result of the intersection of two sets of legal proceedings: one involving family law issues, the other occurring in the context of a labour law dispute.

The family law case was between Ms. Chellappa and Mr. Kumar. The labour law matter was a union grievance involving a friend of Ms. Chellappa (E.H.) who was suspended from his job as a child protection social worker after testifying on Ms. Chellappa’s behalf in her family law case. The Chellappa appeal was Ms. Chellappa’s attempt to overturn an order that allowed the parties to E.H.’s labour grievance to use documents contained in Ms. Chellappa’s family law court file.

The Court of Appeal considered the Canadian courts’ prior treatment of a party’s right to keep information in a family law case private and confirmed that while such a right exists (and is defined by the Rules of Court), the public’s right to an open court process takes precedence. Bolstered by previous rulings by both the Supreme Court of Canada and the BCCA, the Court inChellappa concluded that because E.H.’s employer had obtained documents from the family law file with Mr. Kumar’s consent, it had complied with the Rules of Court and therefore there was no legal basis to prevent it from using these documents in the grievance proceedings. In apparent further support of its findings, the Court also noted the relevance of documents to the issues involved in those proceedings.

This case underscores one of the benefits of using an “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) mechanism, such as mediation, negotiation or arbitration, to resolve family law disputes whenever possible. Because of the open nature of litigation, it can result in a lasting public record of the types of personal and sensitive issues involved in family law that many people prefer to keep private.

We invite you to contact us to discuss the benefits of resolving your family law issues outside of the court system.

Leisha Murphy
Leisha Murphy
Partner (Vancouver)
Connect Family Law

Leisha has practised exclusively in the area of family law since being called to the British Columbia Bar in 2010. Before opening Connect Family Law in 2015, she practiced in the family law group of a leading British Columbia law firm.