Conspiracy theorists are skewing the debate

Family Law|September 12th 2016

Conspiracy theories are everywhere these days, becoming especially prevalent since the Internet provided a voice for all and sundry. Usually of course, they can be laughed off as utter nonsense. Professor Brian Cox has a particularly amusing, albeit somewhat rude, expression to describe those who believe the Moon landings were a hoax. Sometimes, however, conspiracy theories are not amusing, and can be extremely harmful.

For example, just the other day I read about a theory surrounding the Sandy Hook school shooting. For those who don’t remember, the shooting occurred in 2012 at an elementary school in Connecticut, USA, when 20 children aged six and seven, together with six adult staff members, were shot and killed. It was the deadliest mass shooting at a high school or grade school in U.S. history. The theorists, however, don’t believe it happened. They believe it was a conspiracy, staged by “some sort of New World Order global elitists”, intent on taking away their guns and their liberty. That’s crazy enough, but what really shocked me was when I read that one of the theorists had stolen playground signs memorializing two of the victims, and then called their parents to say that the burglary shouldn’t affect them, since their children had never existed – they had been ‘created’ to fit the conspiracy.

Conspiracy theories can most certainly be harmful.

The particular conspiracy theory that I want to refer to here is the one that maintains that the family justice system is secret, biased and corrupt. Of course, it is none of those things (as I have often pointed out – see, for example, here and here), but the good conspiracy theorist never lets a small matter like the facts get in the way of their theory. They also seize every opportunity to promulgate their warped ideas, as a quick look through the comments of any family law blog will confirm (even if the subject of the post has nothing to do with what they have to say). Sadly, many who are unaware of the truth fall for those ideas, especially if they provide them with a simple answer to their family law-related problem: blame the system for the problem, not themselves.

Perhaps the most unfortunate victim of this theory is the debate about the future of family law. Whenever anyone attempts to discuss the issue of what is good or bad about the family justice system the conspiracy theorists hijack the debate, repeating their mantra about how the system is corrupt/biased/secret etc etc. We try to give everyone a say in the debate, but they abuse the privilege, with the consequence that the debate can become skewed and, ultimately, pointless. This is why I rarely bother responding to comments on my posts – over the ten years since I began blogging I have spent hundreds of hours attempting to engage in a sensible debate with the conspiracy theorists, but there is no sensible debate to be had with them, and I have therefore now given up (I certainly have better things to do with my time!).

However, the shrill outrage of the conspiracy theorists drowning out sensible, reasoned, debate has consequences that are not just limited to family law blogs. Their shouts are heard by the media who, eager for a sensational story, give the theory not just publicity but also a legitimacy that it does not deserve. Inevitably, the theory comes to the attention of our politicians, some of whom may fall for it (especially if they see votes in it).

At best, the conspiracy theories may be a distraction, forcing those debating the future of the family justice system to waste precious time and resources dealing with them. At worst, they can actually have a bearing upon the direction of policy, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see just what a conspiracy theory-led policy might look like.

There is a very serious debate to be had over the future direction of family justice in this country. We must not allow that debate to be de-railed by those who prefer to follow a cheap conspiracy theory, rather than engage in principled and rational discussion. Only then might we end up with a truly better system, fit for the 21st Century.

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.

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  1. Andrew says:

    Tinfoil hat and flame-proof underwear on, John, the usual suspects will be along in a moment!

  2. John Bolch says:

    I’m prepared! 🙂

  3. CB says:

    Why in the last few years have there been so many changes within the family law rules, ending of split courts, reduction of legal representation etc, etc, etc, someone has finally listened to non conspirators that have suffered unbearable injustice, that has ruined their lives forever

  4. Andy says:

    The whole justice system is one big conspiracy…
    Look at all the injustices that have been created only to quash them a few years later…the pressure is by public demand for a result…so some one have to take the blame…usually is the wrong person or persons,but hey,one result,so job done…

    Just like the divorce system very one sided and the need to sort the issues out..job done ,next case please..what is it today,, minimum of five cases to be sorted before lunchtime and another five after.
    The divorce pile gets less…haha.

  5. Stitchedup says:

    This is possibly the most uplifting articles you’ve posted John. You appear to be saying that it is now being acknowledged that the family courts have indeed got things spectacularly wrong in certain areas which has had disastrous consequences for children, fathers and indeed the family as a whole. I wouldn’t beat yourself up about it, the law has got things wrong in the past e.g. Chemical castration of homosexuals. What’s important is that we, as a society, can recognise when the law and/or the courts have got things wrong and people have the courage to challenge the establishment and indeed the politics that have resulted in the law and the courts loosing their way. If by contributing to this blog I have helped to raise awareness of the failings of the family justice system, and indeed the criminal justice system, then that is a good thing. There’s good law and bad law John, but there’s also good law interpreted badly. Feminism started as a worthy cause to address inequality and people like Erin Pizzey setup refuges to address a real problem not to make a political point. Unfortunately the politics of militant feminism has infected our justice system and skewed the course of justice. I’m an Engineer John, not a lawyer, but as an professional Engineer I have a pretty good grasp of maths and statistics. To an Engineer, skew refers to statistical distributions that are not normal, I.e., the distribution is asymmetrical with data clustered towards one end e.g in a justice system where there’s a presumption of shared parenting you would expect the distribution curve to peak and centre on 50% father 50% mother not peak firmly to one side at 97% mother 3% father. That is what’s known as a skewed distribution and a quick google of skew will show definitions such as “a bias towards one particular group or subject”. Unlike you I will continue to contribute to this blog and continue the debate because this is just the start, there’s far more to be done.

    • Mehul Desai says:

      StitchedUp – I’ve studied Pure Mathematics and Statistics in the past. The statistics are just top level information with little detail of individual cases. If cases were not fact specific then of course the top level figure would be very concerning to any family Lawyer.

      It’s only when you explore that 97% which you claim proves bias. The Minotaur lies in the details not the top line statistics.

      Of that 97% – we do not know the following:-

      1. How many unrealistic applications were made?
      2. How many the status quo was firmly established?
      3. How many high conflict situations?
      4. How many the children were old enough to express a clear view?
      5. How many one parent litigated in a wholly unreasonable manner?
      6. Findings of DV?
      7. How many one parent was absent for ages then later returned back on scene?
      8. How many the Parent only applied for contact as opposed to residence?
      9. How many no contact orders made?
      10. How many the parent couldn’t even manage a shared care because of fulltime work?


      Your assumption is every application is for a shared care type order and every case has similar facts, I know most dads I speak with work full-time and just content with weekly overnights and every other weekend. Some times they get a few skypes and calls. It all depends on the facts. I have also come across in Court, quite a lot of disastrous McKenzie Friends, who encourage and advise Dads to litigate in a certain way which leads to path of destruction and Children suffer.

      • Luke says:

        “I’ve studied Pure Mathematics and Statistics in the past.”
        Frankly so what ?
        Personally I would fully accept that the 90+% figure doesn’t mean that all of those cases are unjustified – I think any sensible person obviously would, but if you think that only a tiny percentage of fathers are wanting and should be getting at least shared custody then you are just wrong. All of your points can be relevant to both genders. For instance in Scandinavia the figures are nothing like this.
        The reason so few fathers fight for it in the UK is because it costs a fortune and their lawyers are telling them that in their experience Family Court policy means they won’t get anywhere.

  6. JamesB says:

    Lol. You remind me of Comical Ali John. Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf.

    Or roasting marshmallows while London burns.

    Sorry for the momentary setback, normally service is excellent round here and is but a brief problem, normally, 99% of the time things are fair and you pointing to the 1% – like the cruise missile outside the window – is unrepresentative of the true picture where we are prevailing.

    Utter nonsense. Couldn’t get to the end of this post from you John.

    With re to debating the matter, open to that and have never seen you do so, you just make pronouncements as if you are divine. Oh John says its ok so it must be, well, having been to court over 60 times on my case and others I can tell you its not bloody fine, its far from bloody fine.

  7. John Hemming says:

    I am quite surprised that you don’t think having expert witnesses on retainers provides a financial bias towards the local authorities that pay those retainers. Obviously social workers are employees of the local authority and tend to work towards the corporate priorities of the local authority.

    I saw a court order recently that said a child should be adopted because that is what the local authority has as its plan.

    What is that if it is not a bias towards the objectives of the local authority (which are set substantially by central government)?

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