I generally find that reading law blog comments by non-lawyers is not the most efficient use of what little spare time I have available. Occasionally, though, I do venture into that murky world, and on Monday I was rewarded with something most amusing. Apparently, my posts here contain a “narrative about how wonderful the system is” (see the first comment on this post).
Now, when I stopped laughing I realised that the commenter obviously hadn’t read many of my posts here. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve acknowledged that the system isn’t perfect, and that I’ve suggested changes that I would like to see. In fact, there can be few family lawyers in the country (or even non-lawyers, for that matter) who have publically said these things more often than I have, whether here or elsewhere.
Amongst the changes to the system that I have argued for are the reintroduction of legal aid for private law family matters; the introduction of no-fault divorce; property rights for cohabitees; the abolition of the child support system; and the reduction of court fees, to name just five. Now, I’m sorry that that my wish-list may not contain all of the things in yours, but we’re all entitled to our own opinion, aren’t we? And Marilyn Stowe is kind enough to provide you with a platform here to express your opinion, even if some of you choose to use it repeating the same old mantras, irrespective of whether they are relevant to the post commented upon.
And my dissatisfaction with the system goes much further. I am worried that it may no longer provide those who need it, particularly the less well off, with the service that they require. That service is being allowed to degrade, with no suitable alternative in place. In short, far from being complacent about the family justice system, I fear for it, agreeing with Marilyn Stowe that the system is failing.
Obviously, over the years I have come across many criticisms of the family justice system, but just because I don’t agree with many of those criticisms doesn’t mean that I accept that all is well in the garden.
I have, of course, tried to explain here on a number of occasions why I don’t accept some of the more popular (or perhaps it should be ’populist’) criticisms, such as that the family courts are biased, either against men or women, depending upon your point of view. Now, I realise that many won’t accept my explanations, but to suggest that they indicate that I am completely happy with the system is absurd and a non-sequitur.
I have also, over the years, come across numerous suggestions for reform of the family justice system put forward by those with, shall we say, a different view of the system to my perhaps more conventional outlook. The problem for me is that I’ve rarely come across a suggestion that I’m convinced will make things better, and many will I fear make things considerably worse. For example, it has often been suggested that courts are not the appropriate place to deal with family disputes. I can see the merit in that. The difficulty, however, is that ultimately, if the parties cannot reach agreement then someone is going to have to impose a decision upon them, and there is going to have to be a method for that decision to be enforced. That, it seems to me, entails the use of the courts system, which has the power to make and enforce decisions.
So please, don’t make the mistake of believing that simply because I don’t agree with you I think the family justice system is wonderful. I do believe that there is much that is good in the system, in particular the dedicated and hard-working people who run it, and that there is much that it gets right, such as making the welfare of children the paramount consideration, but there is also much that is wrong with the system, and ‘wonderful’ is certainly not a word I would use to describe it.
*And no, I’m not wonderful either. There, see how you have to read everything to get to the truth?