On Sunday I was briefly involved in a conversation on Twitter that began as a discussion of the Charlie Gard case and the impact, or lack of impact, that transparency has had upon the case. There is an awful lot of ignorance out there about the case and the motives of Great Ormond Street Hospital, the lawyers involved in the case and even the judge, Mr Justice Francis. The suggestion was that greater transparency in family justice had failed in the task it had given itself, i.e. to put right that ignorance.
My small contribution to the argument was that the excellent Transparency Project, a charity that aims to explain how family law and the family courts in England and Wales work, was all very well, but was founded on the misconception that truth will always win – i.e. if you explain the truth of why the family courts do what they do, then the public will understand. Sadly, however, that is not the case, as we live in a post-truth world. People will believe what they want to believe, irrespective of whether or not it is true. Accordingly, they will disregard anything that contradicts their belief, and accept anything that accords with it. And the source of the information will have no bearing whatsoever. All that matter is what it says, and thus information from a legal expert is just as likely to be rejected or accepted as information from the bloke down the pub.
Unfortunately, we see this sort of attitude all too often in relation to family law, the family courts and the family justice system. The facts may, for example, show that the system is not biased in favour of either mothers/wives or fathers/ husbands, but that does not prevent many people believing that it is, and therefore preferring the non-factual ‘evidence’.
Now, this whole ‘post-truthism’ is nothing new. It has always been there. The difference, however, is that nowadays it is far easier to be a ‘post-truther’ than it was just a few years ago, before the advent of the internet and social media. Whereas previously the only voice that the average person might have heard that contradicted the truth probably came from that bloke down the pub, nowadays the contrary voices are everywhere: on internet forums, in blog comment sections, on Facebook and even in the less well informed sections of the media. Whatever your beliefs, and no matter how absurd they may be, you will not have to look far to find someone who agrees with them.
And that is all that matters. That the other person takes the same view as you. The merits of the belief are accepted without question.
And it goes further. Experts are not trusted. They have an ulterior motive, usually profit. Accordingly, anyone claiming to be a family law expert is less likely to be listened to. We don’t need experts, we know best.
So what is to be done about this situation? Do we keep plugging away, as The Transparency Project does, in the hope that attitudes may change? Or is that no better than knocking our collective heads against a brick wall? Is the alternative to just give up and let people discover how the family justice system really works, when they experience it for themselves?
Do we simply hope that there will always be a majority of people who understand that the family justice system strives to do the best for those who are affected by its decisions, in particular the children? Or will there come a tipping-point, where the post-truthers outnumber the understanders? And what will happen then? Will the post-truthers demand that the law be changed to fit in with their warped ideals? Of course, then they will become the truthers…
I’m afraid I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I don’t think we will ever rid ourselves of the scourge of those who peddle nonsense. However, I remain optimistic that most of the population are clever enough to be able to distinguish between nonsense and the truth, and that truth-denial will therefore never really gain traction. It will, however, continue to attract a minority, who will do themselves no favours whatsoever, whether it be making bad decisions in connection with their own matters, or causing trouble and stress for those who, like the staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital, are just trying to do their best for those in need of help.
*My earlier thoughts were set out in this post.