As a matrimonial practitioner with some twenty eight years experience under my belt, I read with interest the article printed by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
I have throughout my career been a champion for both men and women, where injustices in the family system call for a voice.
Over the years, I have supported the battle for battered wives with a unit attached to my practice, and given my full support in helping to rebuild the future of some such women caught in a vortex of fear.
I have also acted for women whose husbands or partners have acted in a wholly inappropriate manner towards their children or towards them in front of the children in a detrimental way. Some of them and the children have been scarred forever by these experiences.
I have often heard the pleas of wives as to why there is no law in place that compels a parent to see their children, leaving them with the full weight and responsibility of child rearing.
Yet, with all that knowledge and experience, I have to vehemently disagree with the text of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s article.
Over the years, I have also worked closely with Matt O?Connor and Fathers for Justice, helping some displaced and wretched fathers watch their relationship with their children snuffed out due to the spite, ignorance, anger, revenge and a multitude of various spurious unacceptable reasons put forward by their spouses or partners.
I do not condone in any way how Matt or his group have behaved, as he well knows, but for Yasmin to claim that he is totally disassociating himself from the unfairness of the present Court system is inaccurate in the extreme.
Matthew has voiced both in articles and to me directly his concerns that the extremist element in his organisation do not appear to recognise the real areas of concern and that he wishes that their organisation can reinvent themselves now, since they appear to have a voice and they have at last received some recognition. No more, no less. The way in which Yasmin appears to have interpreted his words appear to be distorted.
To dismiss the entire issue of the unfairness of the Courts in a manner in which they treat fathers out of hand, along with the misinterpretation of Matt O’Connor’s present desires, is disingenuous and most harmful.
I do totally sympathise with Yasmin’s loss of a father to her children, but her own personal bitter experience should not blind her to the current unfairness within our own matrimonial justice system. I am not alone in demanding a reform of the system and how it works generally and, along with a multitude of respected researchers and practitioners, believe that there must be a full overhaul of the way in which children’s cases are dealt with in the current system so that the present emphasis and prejudices are eradicated.
It is far too simplistic to dismiss all of our concerns with the wave of a hand. I certainly will continue with many others in the battle to ensure that fathers who do wish to see their children, where there is no contrary circumstances which should prevent this, should be able to do so and as speedily as possible.
There is no dispute amongst those in the know that the system is cumbersome, with the delays acting against fathers, who are in many cases arbitrarily denied contact for months if not years on end. C AFCASS Officers (Court Welfare Officers) are in many cases inexperienced and have been found to be often biased in their reports, or have missed fundamental issues in the preparation of such reports.
Lack of government funding to CAFCASS Officers has led to months of delays in these reports and inaccuracies which have caused sharp intakes of breath on every occasion.
We must never forget that children are the ones who take the full impact of these conflicts and it is therefore fundamental that there is speed in dealing with these cases and that government funding should therefore be a priority. Furthermore, there must be uniformity of decisions across all Courts instead of the current ad hoc, unpredictable decisions across the country.
It is therefore high time that the government stopped hiding behind the lawyers and buckled down to addressing the failures in the system and implementation of proposals such as the early interventions project, or the like, to encourage settling such disputes rather than tinkering with an ever collapsing system.
It is imperative that we do not follow the advice given by Yasmin and write off the fathers.
We already have a huge group of family practitioners, or as I would refer to them ‘Lawyers for Families’ who are ready and willing to help solve family disputes but in a system that urgently cries out for reform.