Particularly in these post-legal aid days, the Internet should be a wonderful resource for those involved in family proceedings. Cheaply available to virtually everyone, it can provide basic information and advice, in a way that was impossible previously.
The problem, however, is that not all of that advice is good advice, and many are simply, and understandably, unable to differentiate between the good and the bad. The bad advice often emanates from those with an axe to grind against the family justice system, usually because of their own personal experience of the system not doing what they wanted it to do. Thus, for example, we have the narrative of the ‘secret family courts’, where we are told that justice is handed out behind closed doors, by people who have a specific agenda against YOU.
Now, such nonsense would be pretty harmless but for the way in which it can now be disseminated to the unwary, gaining traction as it goes. It is now all too easy for those in the vulnerable and traumatic situation of recent relationship breakdown to come across and fall for such a narrative, especially when things appear to be going against them.
The idea that the family justice system operates in a secret fashion obviously leads to the believers losing trust in all those involved within the system, including judges, lawyers, social workers and welfare officers. These people are all part of the great secret family courts conspiracy! So, along comes a bright idea to counter the falsehoods that are committed by these evil people: make recordings of everything! That way, they’ll never be able to deny what was said.
We’ve seen the idea of recordings previously, most particularly in the area of public law, where, for example, parents record meetings with social workers (there are now guidelines about this). Now this week we have seen an example in the private law field: M v F (Covert Recording of Children), a child residence dispute in which the father and his partner embarked upon a concerted programme of recordings, in particular covertly recording meetings between his daughter and her social worker, a family support worker and the guardian.
We are told by Mr Justice Peter Jackson in his judgment that the father’s motivation to make these recordings was initially to find out about abuse and to hear his daughter saying things to social workers that she might not say to him. However, we are then told that as matters developed, he wanted to be able to show that his daughter was saying things to professionals that they were not reporting or acting on. In other words, the father no longer believed that the professionals were doing the job in the impartial way that they should.
I don’t know whether the father in this case, or his partner, had been influenced by the rantings of the secret family courts brigade. However, their message is now so widely available, including in the less responsible parts of our national media, that it must be very likely that they had come across it.
Whatever, the father’s actions did not turn out at all well for him. Not only were they a prominent factor in Mr Justice Jackson’s decision to move the child from the father to the mother, but the father was also penalised for the additional costs caused by the recording evidence. Far more important than that, though, the father’s actions could have a serious effect upon his relationship with his daughter, when she comes to understand what has happened.
Now, of course there are some ‘bad’ family law professionals, just as there are bad eggs in every walk of life. However, that does not of course mean that all should be tarred with the same brush. Only when there is definite evidence of wrongdoing or error should the impartiality of the professionals be questioned. This sort of ‘automatic’ lack of trust in family law professionals is doing no one any favours.
Those who peddle the secret family courts narrative have a lot to answer for. They are sending many vulnerable people in completely the wrong direction, causing misery and mayhem in the process. We must do all we can to counter this nonsense.
The full report of M v F can be read here.
Photo by Michelangelo Carrieri via Flickr