What family lawyers are talking about this week…By John Bolch

Family Law|Industry News | 15 Nov 2013 4

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This week began with the rather alarming news that relationship breakdown is apparently costing the UK a staggering £50 billion a year, according to the Relationship Alliance, a new group of politicians and charities. The alliance is proposing that a ‘national relationship strategy’ is created to tackle the problem. Now, I realise that anything that costs the taxpayer money is legitimate government business, but I am a little wary of government interference with the natural processes of relationship formation and breakdown. Surely, it is for government to respond to the ways of society, rather than try to influence them?

As I explained in this post the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has been exercising his oratory skills again. This time talking to the Society of Editors he chose the appropriate topic of transparency. As I said in my post, there wasn’t really anything new in the speech, but no doubt Sir James’s initiative to open up the family courts went down well with his audience. Whether it will go down well with family justice professionals who are vilified in the media and whose lives are made a misery by the ‘secret justice’ brigade is another matter.

The Private Law Working Group has published its report regarding the resolution of ‘private law’ disputes in and out of court. As I explained, the Group recommends a new ‘Child Arrangements Programme’ to replace the Private Law Programme, and has also drafted guidance on various related issues. All I can say is that I’m glad I’m no longer practising, as there seems no end to the plethora of new and/or amended guidance upon (it seems) every aspect of family law practice. Such, I suppose, is progress.

The biggest stories of the week, certainly in terms of making national headlines, both relate to child care.

Firstly, the serious case review into the death of Hamzah Khan has been published. Interestingly, Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson was not satisfied with the review and has written a letter to Professor Nick Frost, the independent chairman of the Bradford Safeguarding Children Board, listing ten ‘glaring absences’ from the review. These all relate to what the Minister calls ‘missed opportunities’ to protect the children in the house. Without wishing to pre-judge, it will be interesting to see how Professor Frost replies.

Secondly, and in a similar vein, the BBC reported yesterday that children’s services at Birmingham City Council could be taken over by the Department for Education before Christmas if standards do not improve. I confess that this is not a story that I have been following closely, but I do hope that it is not just an example of the government making an empty threat in order to respond to the clamour for ‘something to be done’. After all, taking over the services of a council the size of Birmingham is going to be a lot easier said than done, as the BBC correspondent points out.

And finally, Conservative MP David Davies has suggested that ‘feckless’ fathers should be put in chains and made to work to pay back the costs of the care of their children. Who said we didn’t get high quality debate in parliament anymore?

Have a good weekend.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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    1. Paul says:

      Separation and fecklessness count as synonymous in a tory toff’s eyes when it comes to fathers, hence Cameron’s graceless remarks on Father’s Day a while back and now this latest idiot spouting forth. I am pleased to note though that the conservatives cannot afford to lose votes at the margin. Even a disparate and dissatisfied bunch of erstwhile fathers like us can either spoil our vote in safe conservative seats or, better still perhaps, rub the toffs’ noses in the dirt by voting UKIP with a gleeful smirk of schadenfreude across our faces.

      I wonder though what the politicians will do about the catastrophic state of family policy they have done so much to bring about. Perhaps we need a few more fatherless helots from those sink estates before they finally get the message, sack those feminist social policy professors along with the divorce lawyers and DV merchants and roll up their sleeves for business. As matters stand, we have the gilded but hapless Mr Justice Cobb cobbling his family justice solutions with the legal equivalent of Elastoplast probably wondering whether in a past life his mum and dad had named him Sisyphus.

    2. Anonymous says:

      “And finally, Conservative MP David Davies has suggested that ‘feckless’ fathers should be put in chains and made to work to pay back the costs of the care of their children. Who said we didn’t get high quality debate in parliament anymore?”

      It is actually indicative of how low the quality of debate is, when misinformation is allowed to influence attitudes and policy.

      I too think fecklessness is unforgivable, but I’m afraid that simplistic agenda-driven journalism is not doing anything to aid understanding.

      I might add to this discussion a simple question: why are boys growing into men who feel it is okay to abandon their children? This to me all comes down to their upbringing, no doubt in a single-parent home where the father was thrown out and reduced to a cash provider. These boys have seen how fathers are treated, and want none of it.

      This all comes down to the fact that this country treats fathers as disposable. Until that changes, fecklessness will just get worse, and we will have more debt, and more loonies suggesting imprisonment for poorly raised boys, and the average reader nodding their head like a donkey.

    3. Paul says:

      I don’t think fecklessness is unforgiveable at all. In fact it rather surprises me how resilient most fathers are in sticking around and that more don’t walk away. Fecklessness is the natural response to the way things are at the moment in society. I don’t condone it but neither do I condemn it. There is little incentive for men to act responsibly and huge incentive to shrug your shoulders and saunter down to the next bus stop for the easy pickings on offer. Responsible attitudes obtain when something is regarded as laudable and valued generally. Fatherhood isn’t any longer. A Labour home office minister, Harriet Harman, lauded high rates of parental separation as a ‘positive development’ and went as far as commissioning a piece of social policy research which questioned whether fathers were required at all. That is the kind of prevailing attitude which underpins the jurisprudence we see in family courts. It’s an anti-father writ that runs right through society.
      It is rebounding of course as the effects have become devastating. Until there is a basic shift in societal attitudes to fathers though I can’t see much positive change happening as the root of the problem is too far ingrained now. I regard all those fatherless children pouring forth from the sink estates as hapless helots for the cause.

    4. Anonymous says:

      You have a good point Paul, and yes, when everyone around you is telling you to just get on with your life and forget your children (because that’s women’s work), you can understand why fecklessness as they call it has become a problem. At the point of separation, if you are male, fecklessness is encouraged absolutely, because wanting to be involved with your children is regarded with suspicion, and everyone will wonder if you are a nutcase. In fact, you might say that fecklessness is presented to you by the courts and authorities as the only responsible course of action. So we should not look down on the feckless, and it is hypocritical indeed when politicians and other donkeys try to rally public opinion against them.

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