As I reported here yesterday, last week the relationships charity Relate published a new report Breaking up is hard to do, aimed at “assisting families to navigate family relationship support before, during, and after separation”. Amongst other things, the report calls for a national helpline and for a single point of access to support and information.
As I also mentioned yesterday, Caroline Dinenage MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Family Justice (who I shall henceforth refer to by the rather more manageable term ‘Family Justice Minister’), spoke in response to the report at a launch event held by Relate. Her speech, it is fair to say, does not fill me with confidence for the future of the family justice system in this country.
Reading through it, the speech gives the impression of being lifted lock, stock and barrel off the dusty shelf of meaningless government platitudes and banalities. It could, in fact, have been a speech given by any government minister over the past five years, amended simply by reference at the beginning to whoever happens to be hosting said government minister.
Let us look at a few examples of the profundities that slipped from the lips of our learned Family Justice Minister.
Here’s a good one to start with:
“We know that it’s very sad when a family breaks up and an acrimonious split between parents can have damaging effects on children”
Really? Who would have thought it? I’m so glad that we can call upon such wisdom from our government ministers. Despite the Minister’s suggestion otherwise, I honestly had no idea that acrimonious splits between parents could have damaging effects upon children. That gem of information has changed my entire outlook upon family law.
Now, of course no government minister worth their salt can miss an opportunity to plug mediation, and, sure enough, the Family Justice Minister did not disappoint, telling us that:
“…people have a strong preference for avoiding court, which they see as daunting”
Well, blow me down. I always thought people loved going to court. All that dressing up and formality – who would want to miss that? Now I know just how wrong I was.
Needless to say, whilst eager to encourage out of court settlement the government is quick to absolve itself from any financial responsibility for helping couples reach agreement. The Family Justice Minister therefore told us:
“I want to foster a cultural change to enable people to solve their own disputes in a less acrimonious way and not look to government to do it for them”
In other words, you’re on your own. But then, we have all known that, since the government abolished legal aid for most private law family matters.
Lastly, we had this. I’m not sure whether it is a threat, a promise or (most likely) just another bit of meaningless government spin. The Family Justice Minister told us that:
“We will be reforming our courts system to transform it into a service that is built around the needs of all the people who use it and which will fundamentally improve access to justice for citizens.”
Funny, but I always thought that our courts system was there to satisfy the needs of those who have to use it. Clearly, it has some other purpose. Still, it’s good to know that a government that has denied proper access to justice for millions is now going to change its ways and do something to improve access. Exactly what it will be doing, I have no idea.