camera, are not made available”.1183
12.24The purpose of the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Ordinance (Cap 287) is to regulate, inter alia, the publication of reports of judicial proceedings in such manner as to prevent injury to public morals. Section 3 provides that it shall not be lawful to print or publish any particulars in proceedings for nullity, divorce or judicial separation, other than the names, addresses and occupations of the parties and witnesses; a concise statement of the charges, defences and counter-charges in respect of which evidence has been given; and the decision and the judgment of the court. Section 3(4) states that the section does not apply to the publishing of reports of proceedings by any bona fide series of law reports, or a publication of a technical character bona fide intended for circulation among members of the legal or medical profession.
12.25However, section 5(1) does provide that the publication of information relating to proceedings held in private is not contempt except where “the proceedings relate to the wardship or adoption of an infant or wholly or mainly to the guardianship, custody, maintenance or upbringing of an infant, or rights of access to an infant”. Despite this provision, subsection 2 proceeds to state that, without prejudice to subsection (1), the publication of the text of an order made by a court sitting in private shall not of itself be contempt except where the court expressly prohibits the publication.
12.26Article 10 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, which incorporated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into our domestic law, in the Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap 383), makes provision for public hearing of proceedings, but excludes the press and public “when the interests of the private lives of the parties so requires.” It also provides that any judgment shall be made public except where “the proceedings concern matrimonial disputes or the guardianship of children”.
12.27In Hong Kong some family judgments contain the full names and identifying details of the parties. Of course, some of these cases may have been appeals held in public in the Court of Appeal. In other unreported judgments which are released, the names of the parties on the front page of the judgment have been deleted, but sufficient identifying details are left in the body of the judgment, including names of witnesses, to facilitate identification of the parties and their children. We deplore this practice as it exposes the vulnerability of the parties, and in particular their children, to public scrutiny at a traumatic time in their lives when they are already trying to cope with divorce or separation. Leaving those details exposed in a judgment that may have been intended for release to legal practitioners only in the High Court Library does not prevent access by the press or an inquisitive member of the public.1184
1183 At paragraph 5.8.
1184 In an recent child abduction case in Hong Kong, where the female respondent murdered the child who was the subject of the proceedings, and then committed suicide, a magazine published a photo of the front page of the judgment, with the full name of the child revealed as the court had not taken steps to delete the child’s name, though it had deleted the parents’ names. The record number of the proceedings was also visible making it easier for the judgment to be located by other members of the press. Unfortunately, Practice Direction No.27 had not been complied with.