I've posted a lot of material on this blog lately which is critical of prominent individuals who themselves campaign for reform of the family justice system. I'm increasingly conscious that this may begin itself to look like some form of campaign against them or that I may create the impression that I am some kind of apologist for the Family Justice System. This would be a false impression on both counts.
I support reform of the system, but I what object strenuously to is the manner in which some public figures and organisations pursue their agendas for reform. I do not think they are appropriate and I think that they run the risk of being harmful to the individual families caught up in the campaign fervour.
And I have made multiple postings about some individuals because I think it is important to have as complete a picture as possible - having started something, I feel responsible for updating the story as it were, when new events of significance occur. If they would only stop saying and doing controversial and provocative things I'd have nothing to write about! I'd quite like to stop posting about said persons now. It's getting a little boring.
So what is wrong with the system? In fact you will see from the list below that many of the criticisms made by family justice reform campaigners are ones I accept (and have accepted and bemoaned on this blog in numerous previous posts). And I think many of those on my list would be criticisms that many many family lawyers and judges would sign up to also. There is a tendency for this debate to polarise, for reformers to suggest that everyone in the system is part of it and unable to see the flaws in it, and for those within the system to go on the defensive, repelled and wounded by the often antagonistic and vitriolic approach taken. I think a little respect is called for on both sides. I try to encourage that on this blog, not always successfully. Conceptualising the debate as "Crackpots v Money grabbing Lawyers" is corrosive and is a missed opportunity.
Criticisms of the family court system:
- Transparency - the public need to know how the courts work, and they need to know when they don't work. Miscarriages of justice should be open for public scrutiny. Safeguards for children need to be in place, in the form of anonymity and some (clearer) reporting restrictions. Anonymised publication of judgments is increasingly common and this is to be welcomed, including in cases which do not raise any point of law.
- Inconsistent quality of social work and inadequate service from CAFCASS (delays - now improved in many areas - and variable quality of work)
- Lack of support for parents from social services in order to parent successfully or improve parenting
- Lack of timely and affordable therapeutic intervention that would enable parents to successfully parent
- Lack of contact centre facilities or resources to supervise contact in both public and private law cases
- Lack of Resources generally
I want to make a point of saying that there are some, indeed many, very very good social workers and CAFCASS officers. However there are too many who are not, most often because of lack of experience or understanding of the court system rather than innate inability. This is no doubt in part due to struggles meeting the ever increasing demand for social work and CAFCASS work through recruitment of newly qualifieds.
I don't accept bogus arguments that lawyers are part of some corrupt system or conspiracy. I regularly challenge the position of the Local Authority and Guardian on behalf of clients and I do it thoroughly and fearlessly. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not. I advise my clients, as is entirely appropriate, when they have no realistic prospect of success and will not suggest they should make an application if it serves no purpose other than to upset them. I always act on instructions and if a parent wants me to attempt an application which I have advised is hopeless I will do so, insofar as my professional conduct rules allow. I am not unique in this and I rarely see an advocate who I think is rolling over too easily. Sometimes though, the facts we have to work with present a very very steep hill for us to climb and it is difficult for parents to accept that.
I also don't accept arguments about the need for a statutory presumption of shared residence or equal parenting time. I have posted my thoughts on that before and I don't propose to repeat them (see here (incidentally I think this is the same survey referred to today by John Bolch here) and here). I do think however that the ditching of the epithets residence and contact in favour of specific issue orders has some attraction, although I need to fully think through the ramifications of it, particularly in respect of the different treatment of fathers with PR and those without.