- Having or showing a willingness to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain.
* * *
The client came into my room. Even through his suit I could see that he was a muscular man: not tall, but thick-set, and clearly able to look after himself, in a slightly intimidating sort of way. He was about forty years old. He had come to discuss the issue of custody of his children, following his separation from his wife. The children were living with her, but he wanted a custody order in his favour. I advised him that getting such an order would be very difficult. I could see that he was unhappy with my advice, obviously being a man who was used to getting his own way. I began to feel a little nervous that he might lose his temper and become angry at me. Instead, he did something else: he asked me whether we could bribe the judge to grant him custody of the children. I was shocked, but managed to stammer out my reply: “Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that.”
That was more than thirty years ago. However, if I were asked that question again today, my reply would be the same. Whilst there may be the very odd exception, family court judges are not corrupt. Sorry to disappoint, but they do not act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain.
Let’s look into that in a little more detail, bearing in mind the definition of ‘corrupt’, as set out above (courtesy of Oxford Dictionaries).
Firstly, as my little anecdote above indicated, it is not possible to bribe a judge. Otherwise, they do not receive money or personal gain of any other sort for deciding cases in a particular way. They receive a salary, which is not affected in any way by how they decide cases (magistrates receive no remuneration, only expenses). They could decide one hundred children cases in favour of the mother, it would make no difference to them personally, financially or otherwise.
The same applies to every other professional involved in the family justice system. It makes no difference to, for example, a Cafcass officer which way a case goes. It also makes no difference to the lawyers involved in a case (not that they play a direct role in deciding cases): in general, they charge and get paid at the same rate, irrespective of which party they are acting for, or whether that party was successful.
Another suggestion that has been made is that the system benefits by somehow making more work for itself. Obviously, this does not affect those on a salary. I suppose it could benefit the lawyers but, as I have said, they play no direct role in deciding cases.
In a quarter of a century of practising family law I never personally came across a corrupt judge, or heard of anyone else who did. I also don’t recall reading of any case in which a family judge acted dishonestly in return for money or personal gain. I’m not saying that corrupt judges don’t exist, just that my experience and knowledge suggests that they are extremely rare. So rare, in fact, that it would be an absolutely absurd extrapolation to conclude that the entire family court system is corrupt.
In short, whatever adjective you want to use to describe the family justice system, ‘corrupt’ is not the one. It is inaccurate. It is wrong. The family justice system is certainly not perfect, but corrupt it ain’t.
I can see the allure of using a word such as ‘corrupt’. It is dramatic, headline-grabbing, and suggestive of systemic failures. But even if you think that the system does suffer from such failures, that doesn’t entitle you to use such a word. I suspect that it is often said completely thoughtlessly, without the consideration of its implications, but that is no excuse for making such a serious allegation, against an entire group of people.
Bandying about allegations of corruption willy-nilly does not make them true. As I have said, even if you have some evidence of one judge being corrupt, that does not mean that the allegation can be levelled at all judges. Making false allegations is not only a slur upon the judiciary, it is also incredibly irresponsible, giving those with no experience of the system entirely the wrong impression, an impression that can seriously taint the decisions that they make in connection with their own matter.
If you are tempted to jump on the bandwagon and tell the world that our family courts are corrupt, stop and engage your critical faculties for a moment. Look at the definition above and ask yourself whether that describes the courts, or the system. A brief analysis will tell you that it does not, and to say that they are would be completely dishonest.
[Yes, I know that this post is very similar to one I wrote here previously, but the message clearly needs repeating. And I shall happily continue to repeat it for as long as necessary.]
Photo by mrpolyonymous via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.