Why the secret family courts narrative is so harmful

Family Law|May 31st 2016

So you’re a parent whose child is the subject of care proceedings, or perhaps you are a father seeking contact with your child. In either case, the best thing you can do is get a good lawyer to advise and represent you. You don’t do that, though, because of course lawyers are part of the secret and corrupt family justice system. Instead, you decide to take matters into your own hands. Maybe you will expose all the lies and bias of the family law professionals dealing with your case, by recording your conversations with them. Or perhaps you will circumvent the system entirely, by seeking other means to get the truth out there, perhaps through social media.

Setting out on family proceedings with the preconception that the family justice system is secret, corrupt and biased against you is a recipe for disaster, as has been proved now by a series of recent judgments. Yet, as comments on this very blog prove, there are many out there who are anxious to peddle this nonsense to anyone they can. And unfortunately, there are many who are gullible enough, or perhaps just confused enough, to fall for it.

In the light of the reaction to my post here last week, it is clear that I need to explain in a little more detail just why the secret family courts narrative is so wrong, harmful and dangerous.

First of all, as I said in my previous post, I fully accept that there are of course some ‘bad’ family law professionals, just as there are bad eggs in every walk of life. There are also cases in which the courts get it wrong – no system is perfect, no matter how hard it strives to be. And no, I am not being complacent, just honest. If you are the victim of a ‘bad’ professional, or of a genuine miscarriage of justice, then you have my fullest sympathy. The fact, however, is that your experience is rare. The vast majority of those working within the family justice system are dedicated, honest, hard-working professionals, who have the welfare of those caught up within the system, particularly of course of the children, at heart. And in the vast majority of cases the courts get it right, as evidenced by the very small number of successful appeals, or even attempted appeals.

In short, just because you feel that the system has worked badly in your case, that does not mean that the whole system is secret/corrupt/biased/whatever. (In fact, in most cases an honest re-evaluation of your case is likely to show that what happened was not, in fact, the fault of the system, and often the fault lies very much closer to home.)

OK, having got that out of the way, let’s put to rest another misconception: that believing the secret family courts narrative doesn’t matter. After all, it’s just a bit of harmless nonsense, akin to the sort anti-establishment talk or conspiracy theory you’re likely to hear in your local pub, isn’t it? Well, if you’re not involved in any family proceedings, then I suppose that’s true.

However, if you are involved in family proceedings then the belief that the system, and everyone in it, is against you is likely to seriously warp your judgement. As suggested in my first paragraph above, you are likely to make bad decisions every step of the way, if you engage with the proceedings or especially if you don’t. Instead of doing the right thing, as a good lawyer would recommend, you may decide to take the ‘advice’ of the peddlers, such as the bright idea of removing children ‘threatened’ with care proceedings from the country or, as suggested to me on Twitter yesterday, not reporting domestic violence because that is likely to result in your children being taken away from you. Whatever, your chances of achieving the result you seek are going to be harmed, and very possibly damaged irreparably. Think about it: you wouldn’t ask that chap at the pub for medical advice, so why take his advice on a legal matter of such importance?

And it is not just the litigant who is the victim. The entire family, and in particular the children, is likely to suffer. Children will be separated from their parents, fathers will lose contact with their children, and relationships between parents and children will be shattered.

So, if you are tempted to peddle the secret family courts narrative, stop and consider the possible consequences. You could save a lot of people a lot of misery and suffering.

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  1. Sally Kingston says:

    This coming from a Legal non-practitioner who for whatever reason does not practice, seems excellent advice, cheery picking a ridiculous twitter comment etc. Just like every walks of life there are bad Solicitors or former practitioners in this case. Just look at the volume of complaints received by the SRA/Bar and also the amount upheld.

    The large response your post received is indicative that you fail to consider what actual people have experienced and rather focus on your NON PRACTICING NARRATIVE.


    Think about it: you wouldn’t ask that chap at the pub for medical advice, so why take his advice on a legal matter of such importance?


    Kind Regards,


    BPTC Student.

  2. Mehul Desai says:

    “John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer.”

    ….and so do I……

    Keep safe kids.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Mehul Desai
      You may have seen my comments to Sally Kingston. I repeat them to you. Intelligent debate is acceptable. Abuse is not and shows you up not John Bolch.

  3. Sally Kingston says:

    I’m just wondering how the assertion was formed “earned a reputation as one of the UK’s best-known family law bloggers”

    Has he received awards to recognise this assertion?

    How does one define best?

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Sally Kingston
      Your described yourself in a further hysterical and offensive comment to my blog as a researcher and student. It is my policy to publish comments irrespective of whether I agree or not. We have given you considersble leeway with those comments we have published to date. However you have crossed the line with your latest submission and reference to Hitler. If you wish to post intelligent comments that add to a debate that’s fine. Enough is enough from you. You do yourself no credit.

      • spinner says:

        Dear Marilyn,
        Clearly the only person like Hitler is Hitler.
        I would like to address the lack of any facts or evidence in John’s posts. One example being he states that the family courts are not secret. Thats a fine position to have but let’s have some evidence to support that position. Without that what John ask’s is that essentially we take his word for it, well that’s not good enough. Personally I’m happy to be proven wrong on any position I take but I do need it to be based on more than someone else’s mere opinion.

        • JamesB says:

          I also accept when I am wrong when proved wrong and say so and have changed my opinion sometimes on things and on here sometimes also when presented with compelling evidence or logic or argument. John has yet to persuade me to change my mind.

          • spinner says:

            Exactly, I have my opinion which is that the courts are secret, corrupt and biased which is based on my own experience and from reading and talking with others about their experience. I don’t have data or facts to back up my opinion, it is just an opinion I have formed so I’m all for the converting if John can come up with some actual data to support his claims.

          • JamesB says:

            I agree with you on that and that they are corrupt. I also think they are fulfilling a secret agenda of the establishment, of enslaving men without due process which is against pretty much everything this Country is supposed to be about and is why so many are against these bad horrible places and why I, like many others after experiencing these places, struggle to believe in this country any more. They need to be changed and I have advised how or they will be rightly avoided by many not marrying which is also not good. I would prefer better law which enables people to be together more and married and not just slaves to the state with the taxes of child and spousal support imposed without due (fair) process which is very bad.

          • spinner says:

            I’m not into conspiracy theories however there have been several what were previously considered conspiracy theories that years later have actually proven to be correct but in this case I don’t agree that there is some conspiracy to enslave men.

            Where I do agree with you is that having a maintenance order against you potentially until you die is at the very least some form of indentured labour. In the case of kids and them needing to be supported I think that is a price worth paying as in I’m happy to sacrifice my liberty and free will for that to happen but to keep a grown adult who is perfectly healthy and able to earn their own living in a certain lifestyle that is completely unacceptable and in my view anyone who is being abused in that way by the state is entitled to fight for their freedom in any way they see fit and I personally reserve that right for myself.

          • JamesB says:

            I think we agree, providing the father gets to see his children as often as he likes. To take them away from him without a good reason and expect him to pay for that is bad law. I would not resent paying for children I get to see as much as I like. As I have said it is a difficult job, in this case the court keeping me happily paying for my ex in a nicer place while she flouts a contact order for 18 years. I think that is unrealistic, as I said an assumption of 50 50 contact where not agreed is reasonable and maintenance from one to the other where the other looks after the child more. One taking everything including children and money (income) as is implicit in what you suggest I do not agree with, that is why the csa/cmec/cms/cmoptions has struggles and why that matter should go before decent judges, on that I agree with John, and that each case (for child support) should be Judged on its merits.

            I have been paying child support since 2004 and have another 7 years to go, that is a long sentence for someone (me) who hasn’t done anything wrong and imposed against their will and is well dodgy. More than would get for murder. Have to go now to look after youngest.

          • JamesB says:

            I THINK THE gOVERNMENT HAS NO RIGHT TO PLAY HEAD OF THE FAMILY OR SIDE WITH ONE PARENT AGAINST THE OTHER UNLESS ine has done something wrong, sorry on stuck caps lock. Government coming down on feminist and female side against the father is out of order. They have no right to tell me how to bring up my children or encourage the women to leave by paying them out of my money to do so when I have done nothing wrong.

          • JamesB says:

            Rewarding women for leaving their men is bad. I remember getting talked down to by council and social services for abandoning family when they had to get a fabricated non mol to get me out of the house. The whole thing is built on a pack of lies and unfounded assumptions that need testing in decent court, including, is he a good father, that these places don’t even test this properly (the assumption that he is not) and other places (e.g. religious courts) do is bad and they need to have proper natural or contract law or leave alone. Laws like the matrimonial clauses act 73 trying to make things better have made things worse and need improving upon. I do accept no fault divorce (again agree with John on that), I do not agree with one sided settlements government imposed settlements without real agreement on money or finances over family agreed terms where no fault and pre nups in place, they are bad, I strongly disagree with him on that.

          • JamesB says:

            Thinking about this. I remember an episode with my ex’s solicitor asking me to offer him more money, pushing it. I said “well, if she can’t afford to look after the children, then I would be more than happy to”. He had no answer to that. Fact is she had money from her family and a window before her looks faded to get another mug to sponsor her and the law on her side ripping me off. Still, the point I made is a valid one, if I could afford to look after the children more than her and was willing to the court should give me the opportunity at least 50% of the time, change that law then bang goes 50% of the (dodgy) divorces in this country and the divorce industry sponsored mayhem. Needs to go as people are voting with their feet and avoiding these places like the plague anyway.

          • JamesB says:

            If my ex can’t afford to look after the kids without my money and I have done nothing wrong then government have no right to interfere to take my kids away from me and expect me to pay for that (stealing them) when I am willing and would be happy to bring them up, very bad law.

          • spinner says:

            The lack of enforcement of child contact orders makes a mockery of the whole legal system as it’s not possible to justify enforcement of financial orders without all court orders being treated equally.

            I don’t think anyone should feel they are restricted from leaving a relationship and personally I’m very happy and comfortable that I divorced my ex-wife and also I’m happy to pay child support as frankly when kids get to be teenagers or mine at least can be a real pain in arse to live with so I’m good with paying for them to stay with their mum the majority of the time. The only issue I have is with indeterminate length spousal maintenance orders which in my view are abusive.

          • JamesB says:

            The unenforceable nature of contact orders does indeed render these places bad. Then saying contact and finances are separate matters even though is same court and one type of order is enforceable and the other is not makes these places bad. That the public can’t walk in to and observe means they are not open to scrutiny also, literally and that is metaphorically true also as if the truth got out then there would be no one believing in them, so many don’t believe in them as it is anyway.

            Take your point on the teenagers. Think it would be good and fair to have the choice though. Personally I would chose to live with them. Don’t mean that in a bad way just miss them, not to say mine aren’t grumpy and perhaps I would change my mind if I got to see them more. I kind of resent paying for them when I don’t get to see them as much as I would like on top of other things like the unfair settlement. I am not saying I want my ex back either (she divorced me). Things could be a lot fairer. Spousal maintenance orders are too big in England and Wales I agree also. They also vary. In Wales smaller than London for instance. Scotland is limited to 3 years. That is another unfair element the spousal support to these dodgy places. They are bad for so many reasons.

  4. Andy says:

    Usually I take the bloggers and comments as a light the torch paper and See What happens BUT.
    As I now read the article as the SECRET COURT…

    It seems that some one is trying to get off the hook Mr Bolch, with all attatch comments and prior blogs to this volatile subject…
    Now,we all know there are good Legal advisors and bad ones. In general the increasing dissatisfaction of current legal advisors is ON the increase.
    The unstable law and as this blog comments on if law has dished out the wrong outcome then no wonder innocent party’s are in uproar about injustices..This is also on the increase…some one has to suffer but never the blame or finger of blame pointed to what we know as the CLOSED SHOP NARRATIVE..
    We laugh and joke undisclosed door policies SECRET agenda and outcomes….

    In such cases the legal advice obtained is either good or bad with this in mind pressure to kick out incompetent solicitors who only want the money and leave you in misery…
    I could go on for hours..In my case I was horrendously miss guided by my now booted out solicitor..still cost me £10.000..and had to start again..No wonder trust has gone..and they say they have your best interest..What a load of carp….

  5. spinner says:

    “In short, just because you feel that the system has worked badly in your case, that does not mean that the whole system is secret/corrupt/biased/whatever.” –
    If I find a system that I have many years experience of to be secret/corrupt/biased/whatever and I can speak to other people off and online that have had similar experiences then why would it not be reasonable for me to assume that the whole system was secret/corrupt/biased/whatever, because you say so, someone invested in maintaining the system ?

    1. Is this system secret. Yes as far as I’m aware, cases get published in high profile cases only. There doesn’t seem to be a collection of data on outcomes that can be referenced.
    2. Is this system corrupt. It depends on your definition of corruption, personally I don’t think judges are being paid off but as an example there are financial incentives among lawyers to keep cases going and not settle, certainly not acting in their clients interest but I don’t think this is corruption as such.
    3. Biased. Without question it is.

  6. JamesB says:

    It would be good if these courts could be open, or as a very minimum outcomes and peoples feelings about them recorded down the line after their cases. They won’t be as the court is not open to scruitany as it will show how bad they are and the bad things they do on the balance of probability without proper evidence, proving things right that are wrong and flying by the seat of their pants fast and loose with their version of the truth which tends to be bought by the side who spend the most. Rich person’s folly.

    In absense of objective reporting, my own personal experience was that the cafcass officers and judges were impotent to do anything against people not complying with contact orders, they are unenforceable which makes them worthless.

    With regards to getting a fair hearing, as a non resident father or primary earner or littigant in person, I wouldn’t hold your breath. I think John giving false hope is the worst thing here, encouraging people to go to court. Faced with a difficult woman in these circumstances the Judge will shout at the man and blame him and further reduce contact in the hope that at least he will see his children and the woman will see it working and may get better over time. It is a cop out approach and is wrong.

    I know a barrister and other very sensible men who just wont take ex to court for contact. I can see why not, you get put through being called so many names and get an unenforceable contact order which you are not sure if will see them as they have another cold or dont want to or homework or you didn’t (allegedly) turn up etc.

    Personally I did go to court many times and have some contact, do I think I would have more if I didn’t go to court? Probably not, just I hate how bad and inefficient these places are. They have got me seeing my children but thats not much and not that often and I am a good father and that’s what I got from them and continue to get a load of abuse. They are pretty much useless in contested hearings as they tend to side with resident parent and lower income person in vast majority of cases and the side with the best lawyers and story and time on their hands to write fabricated but believable untrue affidavits for the other occasions who have the mental resilience (or more likely are psychopaths or mentally unwell) to do harm to their children and lie on the bible to win. Bad show really.

  7. JamesB says:

    Lawyers stirring things up to make money doesn’t help either.

  8. JamesB says:

    These courts do a difficult job, very badly.

  9. JamesB says:

    Should make contact orders enforceable and assumption of shared parenting 50 50. That’s without talking about finances, where pre nups should be legal and the law based on need and ability to pay rescinded as it is being used to play silly expensive games that people can’t afford.

    I went to court to oversee Judge signing a contact order we had agreed out of court before hearing. I mentioned getting agreement on finances was difficult and said that its hard seeing expensive lawyers argue poverty, he said he sees a lot of that. Twice the Judge asked ex’s lawyer if he was privately funded. Not that they can do anything under the dodgy (MCA and contact) laws.

    Scottish system which limits spousal maintenance to three years, or a formula (Gary Lineker) based system would also be improvements, need to do something to give people more faith in their institutions (including marriage and these courts) in these two Great Countries (England and Wales).

    With re to the Godwin’s law point, I find it annoying when people get like that and support Marilyn taking posts down comparing people to them. Personally I have had not very bright people liken me to not very nice things and it isn’t much of an argument and is sad as I like to get on with people and once people start name calling it is difficult to talk or get on with them and life is better when you get on with people as we are a social animal. Reminds me of smug married or other people ostracising single parents or divorced people or children who’s parents aren’t married or don’t live with both parents, its out of order.

  10. JamesB says:

    These courts are not open, they are therefore closed. That is a ridiculously easy question to answer.

    I was in (magistrates) court for a motoring offence once. While I was waiting (long wait) I was able to walk in and out of the court rooms. They were quite boring. Out of about 10 there was one interesting case about this young chap shoplifting. Which he got a relatively light sentence bearing in mind he had offended before, as his lawyer successfully argued he was putting his life back together after coming off of drugs and punitive punishment would not help putting him back in jail, think he got probation or community service or something.

    My point? You try walking into family court in the UK, they won’t let you. They are closed. They cannot bear scrutiny as they are so bad.

  11. JamesB says:

    The motoring offence, well, I won’t go into that, I did get some points on my license and more than I would have got by not contesting it, but I respect those places a lot more for being open. I completely lack respect for England and Wales family courts for being closed and all the evidence I have from people which suggests they are not fair, including from myself and many lawyers, including Marilyn’s advising on here a chap with assets not to marry a woman without as the law stands. I could go on but if they have nothing to hide then they should be open, they will not be as they do, the appallingly bad way they deal with the cases before them. Most people avoid these places like the plague and that is a sensible approach.

  12. JamesB says:

    There also seems to be something about older people finding it harder to think or adapt or change their minds. I have seen the butterfly brain scans of older people and over the decades the butterflys get bigger gaps between the branches, the leaves seem to disappear as it were. I hope I don’t get too stuck in my ways and unlistening when I get old as the establishment and these well dodgy courts have been. They need to adapt a little bit as what might have been fair once where there was fault divorce (the MCA 1973) is not now we have divorce on demand without conduct being a factor. The law in these places, for finances, contact, divorce, domestic arguments is very bad and needs amending. Family centres as in Australia would also be a good step forward in addition to the other suggestions I have put forwards.

  13. JamesB says:

    Like Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine, well after their best before dates. Like Ken Clarke as law chief saying proceedings for 9 out of 10 contact contested cases settling out of court meant those 9 are happy. I.e. that the law is good. Obviously not, it just meant they saw nothing to gain out of going to court. He also said the 9 out of 10 not contesting contact meant they were happy with it also, again wrong for the same reason. Need better law from the very bad law these places dish out day in day out please.

  14. JamesB says:

    Like the last days of the East German Government (GDR), these (England and Wales) Family law courts are in desperate need of reform, like when Gorbachev visited them, they need to change their ways or face being superceeded and closed down or made obsolete in the very near future and that would be a shame as would prefer better law and not sharia or religious law or natural law of people doing there own thing in families disregarding these dodgy places which is about the one thing John and I agree on, the rule of good law. Not what we have which is the rule of bad law and is counter intuitive and destructive and making things bad and worse than they would be if they did not exist in most cases apart from the very obvious non seriously contested cases before them.

  15. JamesB says:

    That they reward bad behaviour, such as running off with the children and denying the other parent contact by giving them the lions share of assets and income, plus that they do this behind closed doors saying these places are fair when they are not. Two of the many common day in day out dodgy practices of these very dodgy bad places.

  16. JamesB says:

    Less common in Wales than London and less likely for same case in Wales and varies by location and court also and judge on the day, another dodgy practice of these dodgy places, should be formula based.

  17. Farid says:

    So you expect us to just beleive that in majority of cases the court got it right. How can you even say that? How do you know the court got it right? Because another court approved them. What if both of them got it wrong because of the messed up system that we have put in place.
    And how do you expect us to believe that majority of professionals are good and honest. I guess we just have to suffer through until a report breaks out on how unprofessional and bias these “professionals” are.
    The custody laws is just stupid and harmful to families and relationships.
    As a man I am scared of these courts and the well being of my child. I am scared of one day my wife decides to divorce and for some messed up reason I am not allowed to see my own child. My own child.

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