‘Corrupt’. The word slips so easily off the tongue these days. It is used in many different contexts, but probably the one that led to its popularity was corruption in government. Unfortunately, in recent decades we have become all too used to hearing of politicians accepting money for favours. And thus the word slipped into common usage, as much intended as a term of abuse as to convey the true meaning of the word.
And in the last few years it has been used by the less discerning critics of the family justice system, who are all too eager to tell us that the family courts are corrupt, that judges are corrupt, that lawyers are corrupt, etc. In fact, the entire system and everyone who works within it is corrupt.
But we need to consider the definition of the word. According to Google, it means “having or showing a willingness to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain”. Now that’s a pretty serious allegation to bandy about willy-nilly, unless the prospect of a defamation claim against you holds no fears.
Let’s look at the two elements of the definition: dishonesty and money/personal gain.
I’ll begin with the latter. I don’t think many of the critics of the family justice system are seriously suggesting that anyone within it is accepting any sort of bribe for what they do (although I have come across the allegation). No, the personal gain is the salary of the judges/welfare officers/social workers, or the fees of the lawyers. In other words, it’s just their normal income. Hmm, everyone has to make a living…
What of dishonesty?
Well, I think this mainly goes back to the old chestnut of bias: for some reason that has never been properly explained to me, all of those who work within the family justice system are biased. In particular, they are biased in favour of mothers, wives and, in the public law field, local authorities. The dishonesty is that they pretend to be impartial, when they clearly are not. All of this is, of course, utter balderdash.
Another form of dishonesty is that those within the system know it doesn’t work properly, but they persist with it because they earn good money from it, and they know that an improved system could put them out of a (lucrative) job. The facts that many who work within the system are arguing vigorously for change and that many of them do not, in fact, earn a great deal of money are conveniently ignored.
The real dishonesty here is using a word like ‘corrupt’ when it clearly isn’t justified. There may be the odd exception, but the vast majority of those who work within the family justice system are not remotely dishonest.
Look, I’m quite prepared to accept that the system has its faults and can be improved. But the way to do that is by reasonable and reasoned discussion, not by hurling abuse around. Forget the hackneyed soundbites and engage in proper debate – you might just find that once you stop abusing them, many within the system will actually agree with you.
Using a word like ‘corrupt’ to describe the family justice system without any evidence to back it up is an act of desperation. It’s as if those who use the word believe that its very use proves the truth of the argument. It does not. In fact, if you find yourself using the word ‘corrupt’ to describe the family justice system that may just be an indication that you are losing the argument, clinging to meaningless straws rather than points of substance.
The family justice system may be many things, but it is not ‘corrupt’, and describing it as such does not make it so.