It’s a sad reality about being a family lawyer that during your career you are likely to receive threats, and sometimes worse, from those who don’t like what you are doing. We’ve all, for example, experienced or heard of cases of lawyers acting for wives or mothers receiving threats from irate husbands or fathers (and I suspect that the problem may be getting worse, with so many parties to family cases no longer being represented). It certainly happened to me. And sometimes it can be more subtle, like the husband who replied to one of my letters by writing to my home address, in a clear demonstration of “I know where you are”.
I gave up practising seven years ago, but unfortunately actually acting for the other party in a case is not a prerequisite to being the recipient of a threat. It is enough that you merely say something that the ‘threatener’ doesn’t like. And, sadly, when you write about family law it seems that in the eyes of some you are making yourself fair game for threats and abuse. I have experienced it on more than one occasion since I have been writing about family law.
The latest incident happened to me just last week, after I wrote a post here giving my views on the manifesto of New Fathers 4 Justice, the group who recently staged a protest on Jeremy Corbyn’s rooftop. Unfortunately, it seems that, rather like in some Orwellian state, giving a contrary view is not allowed so far as some fathers’ rights supporters are concerned. I received a tweet, in response to my post, that referred to Donald Trump’s recent speech which was interpreted by many as an incitement to gun owners to assassinate Hillary Clinton should she become President. The tweet was a thinly veiled threat that the same fate might befall me as Mrs Clinton, because of my “attack on New Fathers 4 Justice and their efforts for equal parenting rights”.
Now, of course my post was not an “attack” on anyone. It was simply an expression of my view on the stated goals of New Fathers 4 Justice. We’re all entitled to a view, aren’t we? After all, Marilyn Stowe very kindly allows anyone to comment upon anything said in this blog, and plenty of people have taken the opportunity to give their opposing views on my post. Marilyn herself takes a different view from myself on the issue of shared parenting. But that’s not a problem – reasoned and reasonable debate is to be welcomed.
OK, I know that family law issues can be extremely emotive, especially when they relate to children. People can get very worked up, whether they are actually involved in a family case, or whether they are just expressing strongly held views on the subject. However, threats are not permissible. The lawyer is only doing their job and the writer is only stating their opinion.
But there is more to it than that. It is a hackneyed thing to say, but if you’re reduced to making threats then that is a sure sign that you are losing the argument. After all, if you think you have a strong argument, why resort to making threats? You have no need to silence those who take a different view – in a reasonable debate, your argument will win the day.
And if you are involved in a family case you may also be losing the argument in a different sense. Think about it: you are a father seeking an order that your child live with you. What family court judge would think it a good idea to place a child in the care of someone who threatens others?
And as for those who are just arguing for change, I’m not complacent about the family justice system. I don’t think it’s perfect. I therefore welcome debate. All I ask is that we keep it civilised.
Photo by Seth Sawyers via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.