There are many who complain about the family justice system saying, for example, that it is biased or even corrupt (it is, of course, neither). Some even call for it to be replaced completely, although listening to them I’ve been entirely sure what they would replace it with.
But what if there were no system at all?
The spectre of just that, at least for a large proportion of the population, raised its ugly head last week. It was reported that family lawyers have warned that separating parents are giving up on the courts as a result of the legal aid cuts last year, and may take the law into their own hands in trying to see their children. In other words, for many of those who can’t afford a lawyer it seems as if there is no legal system available to resolve disputes over arrangements for their children.
Let’s stop and look at just what such a scenario really means.
What it means is that unless those parents can agree arrangements for their children (and parents who agree obviously do not need the assistance of any system anyway) they have two choices: to give up, or to take the law into their own hands.
Giving up for the parent with whom the child does not reside can mean having less contact with that child than the parent should have, or even the parent losing contact with the child entirely. Obviously, losing contact with their child is a huge loss for the parent, but it is also an enormous loss for the child. I think that latter point can get lost in the whole argument over legal aid – yes, the government has taken away legal aid for the parent, but it is not just that parent who suffers. The child can suffer as well.
What about the parent with whom the child resides? What happens if they give up? Well, there are various scenarios here, but the one that springs to mind is that they end up acquiescing to the demands of the other parent, which can have all sorts of adverse effects, both upon them and the children.
Then there is the other option: taking the law into your own hands.
For the parent with whom the child does not reside this can mean making threats against the other parent – for example, if the other parent does not agree to their demands regarding the children then something bad will happen to the other parent. That bad thing may be the withdrawal of financial support, or it may even be a threat of violence. And if that doesn’t work, why not go the whole hog and forcibly remove the child from the other parent? The possible effect of such a thing upon the child doesn’t bear thinking about.
As for the parent with whom the child resides, taking the law into their own hands could mean, for example, moving away with the child and not informing the other parent. At best, this would cause an interruption in the child’s relationship with the other parent. At worst, it could end that relationship completely.
If all or part of the above seems somewhat dramatic, remember that desperate people do desperate things. Removing legal aid can seem like removing all hope for those people, and the consequences can go far beyond simply saving public money.
Anyone, irrespective of their means, may have need for an enforceable system of resolving disputes over arrangements for their children. The law must therefore be for all. The consequences of not having the law, or at least some other enforceable system, would be disastrous, not just for the parents but more importantly for the children involved too.