The law - Assume they're wired for sound

3rd October 2008 at 01:00

Technological progress does not always produce welcome results. The parent who comes to a meeting with a concealed recording device - and then produces the recording as evidence at a later meeting - is unfortunately not a figment of an unhappy imagination. What rights exist in such recordings? In one case, a parent clandestinely recorded a disciplinary hearing and the governors' deliberations. The judge decided the hearing was the act of a public body fulfilling a public function, and it was legitimate to record. But the deliberations were private and it was not legitimate to use a recording of a private meeting.

However, where a parent records a one-to-one meeting with a deputy, it is unlikely that a court would decide that the professional views of a teacher about a child, expressed to the child's parent in a meeting to discuss that child, could be confidential in respect of the teacher's views.

Those considering the recording might take the view that the person making it manoeuvred the conversation to produce incautious or damaging statements, and that the element of deception invalidates it. The ease with which material can be edited could also be seen to make it unreliable. Conversely, a parent may falsely recollect how something was said, and the recording may well bring out the true intonation and meaning to the advantage of the member of staff.

All in all, it is best that any meeting with a parent is assumed to be "public" and that a note of the conversation is made as soon as possible. Governors who are attempting to mediate may also need to be warned that they may be recorded clandestinely; and that any concessions they make for the sake of reconciling the parties may come back audibly to haunt them.

Richard Bird, Legal consultant to the Association of School and College Leaders.

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