The other day I was reading a Court of Protection judgment concerning the best interests of a 62 year old woman who was born with cerebral palsy. In the course of the judgment I came across the following:
“The second respondent, FW, has not attended court. He came to court upon one occasion during the course of these proceedings but has chosen not to attend this hearing. I am satisfied that he is well aware of the fact that the case is listed for hearing this week … It seems that the second respondent is of the view there is a conspiracy between establishment figures and that the court is corrupt, and therefore he has decided not to attend at this hearing. Thus, it seems there is no good reason why the case should not proceed in his absence. He does not intend to be present whenever the case is heard.”
I’ll just repeat those words: “It seems that the second respondent is of the view there is a conspiracy between establishment figures and that the court is corrupt, and therefore he has decided not to attend at this hearing.” Sadly, I seem to be coming across this sort of thing with increasing frequency whilst reading judgments.
Now, I don’t know whether FW decided for himself that the court was corrupt and that he should not therefore engage with it, or whether someone else suggested it to him. However, as we all know, the narrative of corrupt courts is prevalent these days, and it is therefore an idea that can be easily picked up by litigants aggrieved at how their case is progressing.
I see the ‘corrupt family courts’ narrative everywhere, including in social media, in the mainstream media and even in the comments on this blog. And it’s such an enticing narrative too: “I don’t like the way my case is going – it can’t be my fault, so it must be the fault of the corrupt system and a biased judge”. What an easy cop-out.
But it is more than just a cop-out. Whether you like it or not, your case is going to be decided by the court, not via social media or any other means. As I have said here recently, you can’t circumvent the system. And the court can only decide a case on the basis of the evidence put before it. By disengaging with it you are denying yourself a right to be heard. You may actually have a good case, or at least some relevant points to contribute that will enlighten the court, but the court will never know if you do not put your case. You have thrown in the towel, voluntarily giving up on any chance to persuade the court to accept your point of view.
And even if you hadn’t been able to persuade the court to accept your point of view, remaining engaged with the process can give you other benefits, even if they are not the result you really wanted. An obvious example is the father who seeks contact with his child. If he disengages with the process he is likely to end up with no contact at all, whereas if he remains engaged the court is likely to award him some contact, even if it is less than he sought.
And further to that, if a party remains engaged it is just possible that they will learn why their case was not accepted by the court. They may just realise that what they had previously been certain was best was actually not. They could find themselves seeing things differently, and having a change of heart.
In short, not engaging with the court process is a course of action that can only lead to disaster for that party, and anyone who encourages it, whether directly or indirectly, is acting irresponsibly. They are effectively denying justice to their ‘victims’, many of whom, I would suggest, probably do not really appreciate the consequences of disengaging.
It’s all too easy to follow the crowd and pronounce on social media or elsewhere that the family courts are corrupt, but calling the courts corrupt does not make it so. It does, however, make it more likely that it will encourage aggrieved litigants to deny themselves any chance of justice. That is not doing them any favours whatsoever. In fact, it is doing them a great disservice, which could have detrimental consequences for the rest of their lives.
The case that I referred to at the beginning of this post is Newcastle-Upon-Tyne City Council v TP, and the full judgment can be read here.
Image by Loz Pycock via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence