Fathers’ rights: The view from Jeremy Corbyn’s rooftop

Family Law|August 9th 2016

It’s a very ordinary-looking property on a very ordinary-looking suburban street, although it does have an extremely useful feature for the would-be rooftop protester: a flat roof. Leaves the hands free to brandish protest banners, rather than having to hang on. Otherwise, its particular allure is that it is the home of the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn.

So, what has Mr Corbyn done to upset the superhero dads from New Fathers 4 Justice? Well, apparently he refused to talk to them and, crime of crimes, he was “very rude” to one of their members. This heinous act merited a visit from our loveable, if somewhat misguided, protesters.

OK, it’s easy to be facetious about these things, but the protesters are, of course, in deadly earnest. So, let’s have a look at exactly what they are seeking.

Well, it’s nothing new, and it comprises two things: an automatic presumption of equal contact, and the opening of the family courts. Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

The group’s website says that it seeks “An automatic presumption of equal contact with the children when the parents split as a starting point.” It claims that this “will give both parents equal parity of rights to see the children. In short, we want dads to have an equal status….same as Mum!!”

As I said, we have been here before. Back in 2011 the Family Justice Review recommended against a legal presumption around shared parenting, taking the view that it could create an impression of a parental ‘right’ to a particular amount of time with a child, which would undermine the central principle of the Children Act 1989 that the welfare of the child is paramount. Notwithstanding this sensible advice, the government bowed to pressure from the fathers’ rights lobby and decided to implement a presumption, albeit in a somewhat watered-down form. What we ended up with was the ‘presumption of parental involvement’, which came into force in October 2014 and says that when a court is considering whether to make an order relating to a child (in particular a child arrangements order) it is to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of both parents in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.

I think the general consensus is that the presumption has made little, if any, difference to outcomes in disputes over arrangements for children. Certainly, New Fathers 4 Justice are not satisfied. I’ll not rehearse the arguments for and against equal contact here, save to say that it is of course a matter of what is best for the welfare of the child, not a matter of the rights of the parent. New Fathers 4 Justice are, of course, under the illusion that the law gives mothers more rights than fathers. Of course it does not. The ‘discrimination’ against fathers comes not from the law, but from the implementation of the law. The simple fact is that in many cases the courts consider that the child’s welfare is best served by it spending more time with the mother. No presumption is likely to do much to change this.

Moving on to the issue of open courts, the group says that “This will prevent corruption, bias and implement a culture of accountability with the judiciary.” Hmm…

A quick Google of the word ‘corruption’ comes up with the following definition: “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery”. I think that every family judge in the country would take exception to being called ‘corrupt’. Why should they be dishonest or fraudulent? What would they have to gain? Certainly, cases of judges accepting bribes in this country are virtually non-existent. Or can the group provide us with evidence to the contrary? It’s all too easy to use words like ‘corruption’, but the users really should be made to prove their allegations.

As for the issue of bias, I have already dealt with this here. Sorry, but the courts are not biased, either against fathers or mothers.

And finally, there is the issue of accountability. Well, I’m not sure what the group are seeking, but judges are accountable in at least two ways. Firstly, of course, their decisions can be appealed against, and secondly, any judge who fails to carry out their duties in a proper fashion can be subject to disciplinary proceedings which could, ultimately, result in them being removed. How much more accountability do you want?

In short, the group complains that we have an “undemocratic secret court system”. Well yes, I suppose it is undemocratic, in the sense that judges are not elected, as in other countries, but do they want all of our judges to be elected, and to stand for re-election at regular intervals? Such a system would be monstrously expensive, not to say unwieldy. As for the allegation of secrecy, this is a common misconception. As I explained here long ago, they are mistaking ‘secrecy’ with ‘privacy’. For good reasons, family proceedings concerning children are usually conducted in private, although it should be pointed out that whilst the public are not allowed in court, journalists are allowed to sit in court unless the Court decides it would not be appropriate in that particular case, so the system isn’t entirely private either.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The system can fail fathers (and mothers, come to that). I have seen it first-hand. Each time that happens it’s a tragedy, not just for the father but also (more importantly) for the child. I’m not going to complacently say that nothing needs improving, just that the search for answers requires rather more than simplistic and formulaic solutions.

Author: John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

Comments(25)

  1. Andy says:

    How very wrong you are John…
    First of all, courts are very much in favour of the mother..
    Second.courts treat fathers as dirt and treat them as second class or part time fathers…as scrum.
    Third.yes you are right for nice the law itself has created the troubles for fathers as it sees fit.
    Gingerbread the other so called support site is really in support of the mother who needs all finances from the so called scrum bag father as the courts decide and the courts think…

    Child maintenance is the new term for the failed CSA..with fathers depleted of any progression in life such as earning potential and a better standard of living..via government intervention..

    Bias in the courts..what planet are you on..mother always gets a support from the courts don’t matter what she has done..she gets what she wants…next case please…Then lunch, I hear the court judge say..
    Easy the bloody judge don’t pick the fall out pieces does he..Typical….it makes me so angry and fathers..
    Fathers 4Justice..they may not conduct a compliant role but at least they are pro active..look at the mp’s who are claiming for doing nothing..idiots.

  2. Darren Richardson says:

    ..The Family courts ARE biased.The Judges are archaic in their views.
    They do not even know the correct legalities in force when deciding residence orders..Disgusting and wrong.

  3. John Bolch says:

    Thank you for those comments, even if they were entirely predictable, not to mention offensive.

    • Greg says:

      Seriously John, you cannot take offence from the replies you are going to get after writing such drivel!!!
      Look at the facts, the statistics for the number of non resident parents that have no contact with their children. The courts are clearly bias. Many (mainly) men are walking away rather than deal with such an unfair, bias and expensive system and processes. Children are being failed miserably on a huge scale.

      And sure, the family courts ARE secret. Why would a reporter want to sit in a childrens court session when hes not allowed to report anything?!

      Come on man, wake up.

    • Darren Richardson says:

      ..agree the comments are predictable as every Father who faces the Family Courts is treated in such a dispicable way.
      ..and offensive..?? The only offence committed is against our children in the Family Courts.. It’s called child abuse denying a child their right to a meaningful relationship with a Parent as it was prior to the breakdown of a relationship….
      …Cud you tell me how I can get the thousands of pounds myself/family spent in Court fees/Solicitor fees/Appeal fees/time lost with my children refunded when the Court of Appeal overturned the wrongful/unlawful/prejudice decision of the archaic Family Courts that dragged on for 2years..??

  4. spinner says:

    “Why should they be dishonest or fraudulent? What would they have to gain?” – The judge in my case lied about on several factually provable points and exaggerated other points. I think the reason why was some kind of paternal approach to my ex-wife as you are correct on the face of it what would he have to gain and in this case I guess he walks away justifying his lies as some kind of doing the wrong thing for in his view the right reasons.

  5. Vincent McGovern says:

    Corrupt, what an easy word to use and disabuse. The most incisive sentence from John Bolch in the above article is ‘the discrimination against fathers comes not from the law, but from the implementation of the law.’

    The outcomes for children post divorce or separation in the UK are the worst in the developed world according to UNICEF research but who wants to solve the problem when there is so much vested ideological interest and associated funding for institutional child endangering gender discrimination as is dominant in UK family courts and myriad associated services riding piggybank on this misery. And as chidren are denied the protection of half of their parents because of gendered access to gateway services and Cafcass DVIP/DVPP is for men only, then the word corrupt is not just apt, but most appropriate. Corruption does not just mean taking bribes, it also applies to institutional malpractice. Best of luck to the guys on politicians rooftops who bring this to public attention, the system badly needs the disinfectant of public scrutiny. Justice in secret is natural injustice.

  6. Stitchedup says:

    The welfare of the child is best served by maintaining a meaningful and loving relationship with both parents. The welfare of the child is best served by ensuring, where possible, that both parents can accommodate the children during overnight contact. The welfare of the child is best served by doing everything possible to ensure that family assets remain intact and are not sold off at below market value or plundered by greedy lawyers. The welfare of the child is best served by keeping conflict to a minimum and not allowing lawyers void of any moral values to set one against the other to rake up their fees. The welfare of the child is best served by not criminalising a parent for something that in normal circumstances would not be criminal behaviour…. I could go on but I think you should by now get the message.

  7. Yvie says:

    The Courts were fair to my son and grandchildren in that a shared residence order was granted, and it worked for six years. Unfortunately the constant denigration of one parent about the other and the refusal to co-parent in a way that was best for the children eventually resulted in the alienation of the eldest boy who now believes he has the ‘worst father ever’ and the anxiety of the youngest child who loves both his parents but who is caught in the middle. How long my youngest grandson can survive in this toxic atmosphere is anyone’s guess. Alienation is a covert, underhand practice which usually goes undetected, the blame being placed squarely on the shoulders of the child – its his choice, nothing to do with me if he hates his father. The Courts need to educate themselves on this destructive behaviour.

  8. JamesB says:

    I found out the other day that Andy Murray and his brother were brought up with their father as the primary carer after his father and mother separated when he was 10, and he has done very well, probably without the ‘help’ of the court or csa at all. A lot of the prejudices of the court and the likes of John against men and fathers are without foundation.

  9. Tale OfAMab says:

    There is a problem in family courts which is against legal principles and thus unlawful. This is how the section 7 report is written. Yes, the author can be challenged in court, but for a barrister to challenge effectively, they need access to information and this means access to everything the report is based on. For this, especially if social services are involved, often a subject access request is necessary. This might be fulfilled long after the court case where it was in the child’s best interest to reach a decision quickly. Through the section 7 report, information can be withheld or manipulated. There is no mechanism to scrutinise the section 7 report effectively. Courts retreat to the position if one has issues with the authors of the report to go through the appropriate channels. This can take considerable time. As an example: At stage 1 of the complaint, the internal review found no issues. At stage 2, the investigating officer made 9 recommendations. The stage 3 panel added another 11 recommendations. Now the local government ombudsman is investigating. This is well over a year after the final hearing. After this it is back to court to vary the child arrangement order. Was the time needed to go through this process in the best interest of the children?

  10. Les Culshaw says:

    I would strongly dispute that bias and corruption does not exist within the family courts. It is often the case that when evidence to support these claims is introduced into the proceedings that the judge controls the evidence which he can under FPR or the judge appears complicit by judgement “ That is not my finding” when in most case’s the supporting evidence has been controlled or removed.

    We hear of the many times when parents seek the introduction of recordings of Cafcass or Social workers that clearly evidence deceit and the strongest objections are made by those so called professionals. It would be fare to say that parents do not need consent to record and if those professionals have not deceived anyone then why does that issue and the objections surrounding it take over the proceedings.

    The issue of “Secret Family courts” is one that needs addressing and this could be done by CCTV then anyone aggrieved can then use the appeal process and that CCTV can be used given that most transcripts turn out “inaudible” when it reaches the part that is relevant to the aggrieved.

    The corruption is easy to identify and above are simple examples. Family law reform is required given that the current system is not gender neutral were domestic abuse is claimed which then leaves the door open for unreasonable help to obtain the pot of gold funding that lines the pockets of professionals often for the female and leaves the male disadvantaged during a legal process. I do not see equality in that issue nor anything surrounding children following family separation.

    The known term “ Do as mummy says” still seems to be the courts paramount concern otherwise the system would not be so bias or discredited by so many fathers when courts ask what the mother will agree regarding contact compared to the courts agents making that decision on facts not the fact that any contact will upset mummy. STOP THE WAR ON DADS.

  11. The verdict says:

    “Family” lawyers don’t care about the child. They care about themselves. It’s one big cheese and wine party to indulge in an extended University social gathering.
    If they cared about fairness or justice or equality they would open their mouths and do something about this.
    Cafcass are classed as independent expert witnesses, yet are not independent, expert nor witnesses. And the judges in the majority of cases do not enforce their own contact orders.
    In that sense it is corrupt. They make it up as they go along. They fudge , they look to bully Dad in a closed courtroom to get the convenient outcome for them.
    I was criticized time and time again for bringing court action by poor judges even though contact orders were continuously broken flouted and disrespected. While solicitors, barristers and judges were taking large amounts of money in a system not fit for it’s actual intended purpose.

  12. Vincent Pitts says:

    To quote the article: A quick Google of the word ‘corruption’ comes up with the following definition: “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery”.

    Bribery might be rare and I doubt there are many little brown paper envelopes changing hands but then why would there be? The income generated by a family court that is failing children and parents alike is highly visible for all to see and could almost be considered legitimate. Those who control the court know what is necessary to reduce litigation. They know what is necessary to improve outcomes for children. They know that there is bias against fathers and they know how to address it but doing so would not be in THEIR interest so instead they suppress it with misleading headlines. They know that the system isn’t working. They know that experts cannot be relied upon. They know that judges are making some very, very bad decisions. They know that orders have been made worthless as far as they can be considered a tool to ensure resident parent promotes/allows contact between child and non resident parent. They know.

    They know, but they do nothing about it. There are numerous steps that could be taken to reduce litigation, to improve the outcome for children, to reduce prejudice, but nobody wants to take those steps so they hide behind smokescreens. They hide behind carefully worded statements that suggest, against all evidence, that they ARE acting in the best interest of the child.

    The reality is that there is far more at play than the best interest of the child. The child is nothing more than a commodity to our oh so caring family law court. Our judges, solicitors, barristers, clerks, admin staff, politicians all get to go home at night and without accountability, without scrutiny, they have no need to worry about the aftermath of their decisions. They get their brown paper bag, all nicely wrapped up as a legitimate payslip and each and every one of them contributes just a little more tax to the economy.

    Is that not corruption? Perhaps we need to discuss semantics but it certainly seems corrupt.

    Nobody wants to address the problems so inherent in our family court’s because the court is an economy booster. A stealth tax on the father. A social construct that causes a gender divide and helps to stop the population rebelling. A means to providing support for all those single mom’s who were expecting to be supported by a man who would play Dad, or failing that a man who would play ATM and be made to do so. A vote winner.

    Effective reform of our family court is readily achievable but those in charge know that will mean job losses for everyone involved.

    Just a thought, but if the day comes where male voters outnumber female voters, do you think we might then see reform of our family court? I wonder.

  13. D says:

    It’s a funny merry-go-round; the article is written expecting (provoking?) a response. Interestingly both sides swear blindly they are right; perhaps refusing to make any concessions.
    .
    One aspect relating to marriage/children/mother and fathers is the division of family care and financial support. My personal view is that both aspects of family life should be viewed and valued equally and ideally split equally.
    .
    In the situation where one partner works and the other takes child care responsibility. One takes a career break, but benefits financially from the other (for the sake of argument the single wage going in could be split 50% / 50% between partners). This partner contributes with contribution to family life but is disadvantaged by a career break, in the future. This could be seen as make a financial sacrifice but then on the other hand there will be many, many cases where one partner stopping working to take a share of caring is not a choice available to them. The other partner might benefit in terms of career but loses out in terms of family life, quality of life.
    .
    On divorce one partner is compensated for this career break by the other partner (who potentially might be declared unable to work again). So the other partner effectively double pays (once in their share to family life financially and again to compensate later on for the other’s career break). The legal world and state see this as fair (especially as otherwise the state might pick up the bill). But, perhaps, how do you compensate the other partner for the lack of involvement in family life, especially in the context they’d probably loose most contact with children over divorce? You can’t. There are many facets to how we value/don’t value contribution, sacrifices, rights, responsibilities, benefits. As a society we tend to view certain as aspects of arrangements as inherently advantageous, when perhaps they not necessarily that.
    .
    In the future, will the one likely to be underwriting arrangements like this continue to see it as fair and still be willing to pick up the bill?
    .
    Finally, with a supported Andrea Leadsom and the government openly prejudging men with regards to child care and paedophilia; it is difficult to see the establishment as neutral.

  14. Peter McMurdie says:

    What a dreadful article about a system that uses children as bait for profit. The family law system is the biggest child abuse ring in the world. It is corrupt and fraudulent. We have a system that is built on profit that has nothing to do with child welfare,. Where Solicitors and barristers collude to string out cases to gain more profit, Solicitors encourage vindictive women to make up false allegations. The system encourages Parental Alienation and the destruction of the father to feed it’s coffers. Where CAFCASS radical feminist social workers commit crimes to abuse father’s and their children. At the top level we have people like Butler-Sloss defending a child rapist (Google it). We have MPs supporting PIE. You couldn’t make it up . And then we have people like this bloke writing a load of tosh that pretend the secret courts are doing good work. Family breakdown costs the UK tax payer £47 Billion pounds per year. And if you speak up about the injustice of your case, they send you to jail. It’s time this wholesale abuse of children and fathers stopped. One day the people who are involved in this business enterprise will be remembered for what they are – child abusers.

  15. Nick Andrews says:

    I think you are misinterpreting what they want and why. It is not to hold the courts accountable, or that the courts are corrupt – it is the mothers that do not adhere to agreements, alienate the fathers/let their own parents alienate the fathers, use children as bargaining tools, and “manipulate” things to undermine the fathers that are to be held to account/corrupt.

    And to be frank, most of the “systems” do neglect the fathers, and act as though the mother has sole decision making rights. Its institutionalized sexism.

  16. Adam Orriss says:

    John, you must have a degree of intelligence to have qualified but you have no awareness of what goes on in these courts or the system. If it is not biased towards the mother then please explain how it is legally allowed for the mother to wait for me to go away one weekend having organised removal men to attend that weekend and mercilessly take everything she could possibly get out of the house, even unscrewing blinds from above the windows, taking every single knife, fork, bowl, plate & spoon & taking my son into hiding for 3 weeks then refusing me overnight access. I have been to court 3 times, I have clean hands but still have no overnight access to my son! After the 3rd hearing I now have my son every other weekend Sat 8:45-14:00 where I MUST return him to his mums to nap & hang around waiting until I am allowed him again from 16:00-17:30. Sunday it’s the same but 9:45 pick up. It’s WRONG UNFAIR AND NOT IN MY SONS BEST INTEREST! But the Courts instructs it! You Sir are saying this is correct. You Sir are wrong!

  17. John says:

    A policy of unequal parenting makes the parents fight each other in the courts. And I wonder who benefits from that? Judges, lawyers and Cafcass perhaps?

  18. anon says:

    I think this site would do better to leave the comments by Nick Langford and myself rather than censor them.

    • Cameron Paterson says:

      Your comments were not posted because of the very personal claims made about Nick Langford

      • Anon says:

        They were fact. The subject is personal. If people are going to get personal then not posting comments back because they are personal is frankly ridiculous.

  19. Anon says:

    They were fact, as he admitted. They also were not derogatory as John and his comments were, just fact. Politically Correct people avoiding talking about inconvenient truths, like families need fathers and society and fathers need families is the problem, not the attitude or approach of the people incorrectly condemned on here, as Matt O’Connor and many others have so rightly said over many years.

  20. Anon says:

    P.S. I’m off. Your censorship disgusts me.

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