Before I begin I should say that the title of this post is hardly original. The thought is also hardly new. For example, I believe it was Lord Bingham who said back in 1994 that delay has long been recognised as the enemy of justice. Sadly, it is an enemy that shows no sign of being defeated.
I have spoken myself about delay in family proceedings here on many occasions. Just recently I wrote about the effect of delay in child abduction cases, and in my post last Thursday I referred to delay as one of the curses of family proceedings.
That curse has struck again. The first words of His Honour Judge Million in the case EJK and VJK (Children), published on Monday, were as follows:
“I begin this judgment by recording my dismay, embarrassment, and apology on behalf of the Family Court system for the delays which have occurred in this case. This cannot be described as family justice. This case has been afflicted by ruinous postponement. During the last four and a half years, from February 2011 until May 2015, 19 previous court hearings had taken place in these proceedings without any final determination of any issues in this case.”
“This cannot be described as family justice” – those words say it all.
There has been no justice for the family involved in this case: no justice for the father, who has not seen his two oldest children for more than three and a half years and his two youngest children for some ten months, no justice for the mother, who has had the proceedings hanging over her for four and a half years and, above all, no justice for the children, who have been denied the chance of a relationship with their father.
What has been the cause of all this delay? Well, Judge Million does not point a finger, leaving it for others to justify what happened prior to the case being transferred to his court in May this year. Certainly, the case had complexities. In particular, the children made serious allegations that the father had sexually assaulted them. Obviously, those allegations had to be fully and properly investigated, but that investigation should not have taken nearly so long as it did: the first allegation was made by the eldest child back in October 2013, but it was not until August this year that Judge Million made findings upon them.
And those findings demonstrate just what a disaster the delay has been for the family. Judge Million found that neither the children’s allegations against their father nor the father’s counter-allegation that the mother had influenced and manipulated the children into making false allegations about him to be proved. In short, all of the allegations on both sides were unfounded. Now, if the court had got to grips with the matter much earlier there may still have been a chance for contact between the children and their father to be re-established. Certainly, at least, that possibility would have been greater.
As it is, though, too much time has passed. The children’s adverse views of their father have become entrenched, and Judge Million accepted that they are unlikely to change in the short or medium term. It would appear that the present situation whereby there is no contact between the children and their father will continue.
The only ray of hope lies in the penultimate sentence of Judge Million’s judgment:
“…in due course, perhaps only when the children are older and are mature adults, that truth may cause the children to think better of their father than they currently do.”
Let us hope that that, at least, is the case.
The full report of EJK and VJK (Children) can be read here.
Photo by Emmanuel Huybrechts via Flickr