Corrupt system of family law

'What is this father supposed to do? Just walk away from his daughter in the faint hope that perhaps if he does not press for…

'What is this father supposed to do? Just walk away from his daughter in the faint hope that perhaps if he does not press for contact something will happen? Surely not."

These are the words of Mr Justice Munby, a senior English family court judge, who last week made a devastating attack on the system in which he is empowered to deliver judgments affecting the most intimate lives of human beings.

Under the headline, "Legal system is failing fathers, says judge", an interview with "one of the country's most senior family judges", was spread over a half-page of last Friday's Daily Telegraph. (I find it interesting, though not surprising, that the judge's comments were not alluded to in some of the supposedly more liberal newspapers in either Britain or Ireland.)

Mr Justice Munby referred in particular to a recent case over which he briefly presided. He said he felt "ashamed" watching a man who had spent five years fighting unsuccessfully to see his seven-year-old daughter walk in tears from his court, having finally given up. The man, described by Mr Justice Munby as "a wholly deserving father", had been persistently frustrated in his efforts to see his child - 43 hearings before 16 different judges - by the mother's refusal to honour court orders for contact.


The judge attacked the system's inability to enforce its own orders or to sanction the mother for her "sabotage". He described as "groundless" her allegations against the father, in respect of alleged chastisement and force-feeding his daughter, and of allegedly threatening not to return her after contact. "Conspicuous also," said the judge, "are any judicial findings supporting the mother's allegations of domestic violence". Yet, this senior judge was able to do nothing.

As a solution he proposed that a mother who thwarts contact over a given weekend should be ordered to attend court on the following Monday and, in the event of non-appearance, should be arrested. She should then be warned that any further thwarting of orders would result in three days' imprisonment.

The family law system in the UK has been cracking open in England since the advent a year or so ago of Fathers 4 Justice, with their direct-action, ironic and good-humoured approach. Some people of conscience within the system - and there are a few - feel, like Mr Justice Munby, shamed by the escalating publicity surrounding the barbarism of family law.

The judge is correct in drawing attention to the damage done by adversarial proceedings in cases involving children. Where I have a difficulty is when he suggests that, as a judge, he is relatively powerless - that mothers who refuse access are some kind of imponderable problem, and that the system is simply inefficient due to under-resourcing. This is bogus. The only accurate way of stating the problem is to say that the system is corrupt from top to bottom. It exploits, for the enrichment of lawyers, the natural and inevitable discord that arises from disintegrating relationships, using a system based on inducement to mothers. "Come to us," it says, "and we will give you what you want", ensuring that mothers will rush to court, dragging fathers and children behind them.

One of Mr Justice Munby's proposals - for separate representation for children - demonstrates that, although to be commended for drawing attention to the problem, he is a long way from framing a solution. What he is proposing is more work, and more power, for lawyers, which is a bit like suggesting more rats as a way of treating the plague. There is already a degree of separate representation, in the form of guardians ad litem in certain types of cases, and the abuses to be found in some of these are, if anything, worse than in standard cases. At least in normal circumstances, the adversarial system, for all its drawbacks, offers some hope of testing the evidence, whereas the intervention of a quasi-godlike figure, with the twin covers of "expertise" and "the best interests of the child", enables black to be turned into white without any prospect of challenge.

Everything Mr Justice Munby said of the English system is true of our's in spades. Any father who has had the misfortune of encountering the family law system of either jurisdiction will tell of the prejudice, the savagery, the arbitrary assessments, the pick-and-mixing of evidence, the poisonous mutant feminism, the hatred of fathers, which characterise both.

If Franz Kafka had been through a modern family court, he would never have written The Trial: why bother reporting the everyday? But the corruption at the heart of family law results in what is, without contest, the greatest inhumanity being perpetrated in modern democracies. No more fundamental right is withheld in any supposedly free society with anything resembling the caprice and brutality with which fathers have, on a daily basis, their own children stolen by the modern state. It is good, at last, to hear that some of those responsible are ashamed.