Meta-Rant: The Lizard Woman Speaks

Here’s a little post that has been sitting in draft for a little while. I shelved it, took a few deep breaths and instead published The Caucus Race. I thought it’s moment had passed, but on the other hand perhaps it has some relevance in light of the ongoing campaigning activity of F4J (summary: Matt O’Connor casts off his M&S kecks to make the girls at Mumsnet cry), if nothing else because it tells you what my heartfelt first response was as compared to my more considered published one. I was pretty angry when I wrote it. References to “this week” are obviously out of date and there is of course some duplication with other subsequent posts. My views on how best to react have developed, as you can see from subsequent posts. It wasn’t really a finished post, but I am publishing as is without tinkering because some of it feels as if it may have some currency: the phrase “the tyranny of the victim” has been bandied about a lot lately – re-reading this post and thinking about some of the public behaviour that has been acted out since has made me ponder whether that label might be a rather apt one after all – because actually it is very often fathers rights groups who now enlist the power of the victim and wield it with naked aggression.

So, the post:


I’m often asked by colleagues why I bother blogging. I don’t often give them the full explanation because it’s complex. But at least one big part of the reason is that I want to inform, to debate and to learn. There is a transparency gap in family justice and it breeds misinformation. I want to help people better understand it, to remove some of the fear, to help the different groups and individuals who work in it and have their lives decided in it communicate better. Not that I’m enough of an egomaniac to think I can make much difference, but I just feel someone should be doing it. And I can. So I must.

This warped sense of duty is one which I purge at the expense of my bank balance, my sleep, my children and my marriage. It is not aiding my fat cat career. But I can. So I must.

And so it’s me who has her head above the parapet. Bloody idiot. But this bloody idiot is not going away just because of a bit of flack or threats that I will get my “fingers burnt”.

I’ve always maintained a pretty open policy on comments. Since the early days of this blog I’ve encouraged debate and comment, opening up an invitation in 2007 to F4J to debate and discuss. I’ve had guest posts from F4J activists and others. I have never moderated out comments simply because I don’t agree with them but I have always publicly stated that I have certain basic expectations in terms of abusive or legally problematic posts and I’ve stuck to them. I try to respond whenever a response is called for. And I try to get through comments awaiting moderation as quickly as possible.

It is sad that it should need to be said, but I’m not incapable of introspection, empathy or kindness. I do understand why people are angry and rude when they are talking about lost children, injustice, heartbreak. I have children of my own (although I have not lost them), and I spend my workings days with people who are in exactly that boat. Maintaining a professional distance does not mean that I don’t have feelings about the fractured lives that I deal with. I couldn’t do the job without empathy and a little bit of kindness.

And the job is a constant process of self reflection – it’s how we improve. I did that wrong, what should I do next time? Nobody gives us a performance appraisal as sole practitioners – we have to work it out, constantly self-scrutinising. In spite of the bluff, I have often said (only half joking) that barristers are, as a species, pretty insecure.

So in response to a rough week in comments (and the odd threatening tweet) I have made a point of reflecting on the sequence of events and what has been said. Because when you are being called a cunt, a bottom dweller, a lizard, cold hearted, out for financial gain, a despicable bigot, ignorant, prejudiced, a family butcher and an abuser by the leader of a prominent national campaigning organisation you have to question why that is happening.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time this week responding to comments on the post in question, not because I’m determined to get the last word, but because I’m actually quite committed to trying to promote sensible discussion. And because I think that it is polite when someone asks a question to answer it. I’ve gone back over what I have said and what other people have said and I’m satisfied that I’ve said some things that people disagree with, and that they are entitled to disagree with, but also that I have not overstepped the line in terms of what is and is not appropriate. As for where that line should be drawn I’ve been criticised this week for being too flippant about serious matters and for not having a sense of humour, for being some kind of conjurer, confusing the ill-educated with my clever word magic, and of being patronising. And for just being a lawyer, particularly one who adheres to her code of conduct and basic tenets. I’ve been accused both of being a solicitor and of being just a jumped up ex-solicitor. I’ve been accused of lacking empathy for those who may struggle to be dispassionate in their remarks. And of stifling free speech. And of calling other people abusive. On the plus side though, a lot of people have been worried about the possibility that I might have bad dreams, and have sent fond wishes for a good night’s rest. But I have to say that after a hard day’s lizard conjuring, asset stripping and criminal conduct I sleep like a baby. So, whilst touching, they need not have been so concerned. (Gosh, dare I make a joke?)

And although my original post was about the wisdom of a particular campaign in connection with childrens’ justice, I’ve also been criticised for missing the point (the point being that it’s all about the children for those who have lost track) by a spot of “colourful language”, “a few cross words”. Well, one man’s bit of colourful language is another’s verbal abuse and I tend to the latter. But it is emphatically not about my feelings, hurt pride etc. The real point for me is not just the overarching question of the needs of children, but more particularly about the level of public debate about family justice. That has long been something which I have thought is in a pretty parlous state and right now I’m pretty bloody despondent about the whole thing. Not just because of the descent from sensible discussion to mud slinging that has taken place this week on Pink Tape and elsewhere. I think it’s sad that this should happen publicly because it discredits the fathers rights movement. I think it’s sad that this should happen on this blog, through which I had foolishly dreamt that I might gradually encourage other professionals to voice opinions, engage in discussion – and to listen. This is not a good advert. It’s a total turnoff. When they next ask me “Why do you do it?” I don’t know what I’ll say.

In essence the thrust of a lot of the comments seemed to be that those being a bit sweary or rude were entitled to be cut some slack because of their experiences as parents struggling to have a relationship with their children. I’ve thought about that a lot. And this is where I’m at. I understand where they are coming from. I know that separation from a child is awful, that conflict over children can become all consuming, overpowering. I know that occasionally the odd inappropriate rant will slip out and before you know it you’ve hit “submit”. And I think that the inordinately long comment thread is testament to the generosity of slack that I have cut.

“Call them aggressive when they start attacking or hanging lawyers and judges from lamp posts. The evils of denying meaningful relationships to offspring compared to a few cross words? It’s high time the voices of family law professionals gave way to their victims. If you cared to listen, you’d find them to be quite a civil bunch, all things considered.”

You know, I have listened. And I have found some people civil. And others – not so much. Nick Langford, from F4J, who I have often discussed things with on this blog, commented that:

“Despite what some may think, we have often, here and elsewhere, presented cogent, well-reasoned and well-researched arguments, and it is enormously frustrating when these are merely brushed aside as the ranting of “mad, bad, sad dads” and no attempt is made to engage in debate or present an opposing view.”

I think I’ve had a taste of what father’s rights campaigners often encounter – nobody really listening to what is being said because they can’t see past the “fathers rights nutjob” label, the only difference is that in my case the label is “lawyer”.  Nick identifies a real problem. Many in my profession, in the family justice sector write off all fathers rights campaigners because of the juvenile antics of a few. I’ve never subscribed to that view. I’ve welcomed attempts by organisations to develop and become more sophisticated in what they do. And I think I’ve listened. I agree with their view that the system fails, although I don’t always agree why or how it could best be fixed.

The fact that this image problem persists makes it particularly sad that even potential allies can attract the vitriolic response that I have this week for simply daring to question, and more so that so many commenters have trivialised the significance of the language chosen. I’m not writing here about me or my feelings, but about the damage that is done to their cause. Every time there is a rant like this, it means someone else will have switched off when something really sensible is said by F4J, someone else will just hear a rant because that is what they expect. Maybe F4J will have gained a few more disillusioned dads as followers, but as a tactic for a campaigning organisation that wants to influence the influencers I think it’s far less likely to have been helpful or effective. Not all publicity is good publicity.

I’ve taken my criticism this week and I’ve engaged with it. Will F4J do the same? All I’ve seen from Matt O’Connor is a tweet crowing about how he’s upset a barrister this week so he “must be doing something right“. That’s a great achievement, but I rather think he’s missing the point.

44 thoughts on “Meta-Rant: The Lizard Woman Speaks

  1. familoo,
    I guess there have been 300 odd comments over the past few weeks on your blog (without checking). Only a handful have been rants as you have described, the bulk of the comments have been trying to discuss matters in a relatively sensible and reasonable manner.

    Thats pretty good going on from any blog or comment section. You just have to look at the Guardian comments or Mumsnet comments or others to see that there is intense vitriol addressed to all sorts who raise their head above the proverbial parapet.

    I personally think to only have a handful of impolite comments on a blog about the most important subject possible – people’s children – is remarkable and everyone should be commended.

    Every blog or paper or organisation has to moderate and remove comments that are beyond the pale; to expect this blog to be any different, well….

    As for F4J’s comments (Matt’s), well he has a view and a unique way putting it across. Not my style but it attracts a following and he and F4J have other strings to their bow that are effective, depending on the arena.

    It is rather disappointing that we again end up with a blog talking about presentation rather than detail again. Much the same disappointment is felt by many who cross the family courts and are penalised for their frustration and annoyance at having to beg the courts to see their own children, merely because they have separated from the other parent. The courts continually make assumptions about parents relationships with children based on the demeanour of parents at Court or in CAFCASS interviews etc without taking into account how difficult it is for parents who feel they are being treated as third world citizens regarding their own children.

    I’d plead with you to just remove the handful of abusive comments and don’t let them on in the first place as all they do is affect positive discussion. I’ve challenged impolite comments regularly, even when they are aligned with my view. It’s life, some people are incredibly rude whatever the subject of discussion. If beyond the pale well just remove imho whether they are agrieved fathers/mothers/lawyers or Eric Cartman from South Park 🙂

  2. You were accused of being a solicitor? How appalling!

    A jumped up ex-solicitor.


  3. Discombobulated


    This is a really heart-felt post. Why can’t these people seeing that you’re trying to do good?! It’s not like F4J have loads of eloquent followers trying to help their cause. They should embrace you, not berate you! They need to raise their game and get a positive profile and they aren’t helping themselves. Lawyer baiting is not a sport!

    F4J shed all their clout of argument when they start bullying and acting like thugs. I think Matt O’Connor’s actions are like that of a 1970’s football hooligan!

    As for the abuse, you really don’t have to put up with it – see the Communications Act 2003 s127, I think?! I hate the C word, I wouldn’t even reserve it for Matt o’C.

    Keep your chin up and remember that your work, efforts and guts are appreciated!


  4. Discombobulated,
    you have to understand that there has been an on-going campaign fought on many levels for decades now to bring real change to the family law system in this country.

    The campaign for shared/equal parenting rights in legislation is fought outside of the establishment; in the media; for public support and engaging with and from within the establishment.

    For some fighting this war ‘choice words’ and aggressive ridiculing verbal and writing communication is a part of the wider strategy to force change on an establishment that has immense power and does not want to change, an establishment merely tinkering with a failed system.

    familoo does not support the shared parenting legislation being fought for and openly states there is no need for it; and is therefore deemed part of the problem by those fighting for change. You are either for real change or against it in many shared parenting organisations and campaigning parents view.

    This may be simplistic but it is the reality for many who believe they are fighting for their children and their own children’s children futures.

  5. One has only to witness the disdain and ridicule the Family Justice Review was received by much of the media, the general public and many openly of the coalition government to understand that the Judiciary, lawyers etc are so far behind the curve that no-one is really listening to them now.

    They only convince each other that a few admin changes here and a few there will suffice and keep reform via legislation at bay.

    • Chambers: 1 The family justice review was not lawyer led. 2 there is no money for anything other than tinkering.

      Yesterday I attended a multidisciplinary conference (not just lawyers) and there was appetite for substantial change – but nobody could work out how to achieve that with no money. 100 of us attended, mostly paying from our own pockets and giving up paid work to come because we want to help make the system better. But the reality is that we all got stuck focusing on how on earth to keep the system operational with vast spending cuts – improving it is just pie in the sky. You seem to think that a fix is within the gift of the judiciary or lawyers and that it’s withheld for protectionist or ideological reasons – but it’s just not.

      Even if you agree the government should cut legal aid for parents in private children cases the failure to plan for the tide of LiPs is just a recipe for system breakdown. The system already depends on most of the professionals giving 110% and working late nights & weekends. Theres no more slack left in it and morale is pretty low.

  6. familoo,
    not lawyer at the head of the FJR panel but with a judge, CAFCASS board member, children services etc – Most wedded to the present family law system or a variation of it.

    I assume it was lawyers, Cafcass, Children’s Services etc at your conference and although I appreciate that much of the raison d’etre for attendance was to make the system better, unfortunately we are looking at people who have grown up from college/university/pupillage/practice etc in a system they will be the last to see needs radical change.

    It is not about money, in Private Family Law it is about changing the perception and practice to both parents starting as equally important to their children. Changing to a system that rewards cooperation rather than a winner takes all mentality which undermines parents relationships with children after the simple ‘fact’ of separation.

    These parents were good enough parents when living together but on separation one parent is seen as crucial to children, the other not crucial but has uses.

    We need to get beyond more money; more lawyers, more Cafcass, more Court – It’s not the answer in Private Family law.

    Save it for Public Law etc where children’s lives literally and futures are at huge risk.

    Specific legislation that decrees both parents should be sharing the care and financial provisions for children from the start of separation, when practical. Legislation that promotes shared parenting and informs both parents that there is little advantage in fighting for complete control and that recalcitrant behaviour will be dealt with firmly and consistently by the Courts.

    Sorry the CA89 simply is feeble and misused at the lower courts in particularly in this respect, it will never suffice.

    When Australia brought in the shared parenting reforms in 2006 – there was a drop in litigation and applications over the following years. A similar reform in this country will take pressure from the Court system in Private Family Law alleviating pressures elsewhere.

    My experience is that LIP cases are dealt with more quickly and more firmly by Courts, as Judges do not need to worry on balance about lawyers fighting for their clients own needs (above children). Judges can more easily focus on children earlier and more strongly when they are speaking face to face with LIPs rather than them hiding behind a advocate. Although you would never expect a judge to admit this publicly.

  7. Northern Lights

    Every time these issues are raised, there is a swathe of disgruntled lawyer bashers who seem to work as a tag team, posting long, flatulent and often self contradictory diatribes in the hope of bullying others into submission.
    On a previous thread, Nick Langford raised some very good points regarding research methods and dadzarmy made some pragmatic suggestions as to how the system could be made to function better.
    That was it as far as I can tell from the non-legal community.
    As someone else has pointed out, familoo, there is something very revealing in the fact that a barrister is hosting (with considerable forbearance) a debate that attracts the very bullies and bores who have plagued the fathers rights movement and would silence you in an instant if you tried to post on one of their forums or blogs.
    There is absolutely nothing wrong, in my view, with the CA’89 and I fail to see how renaming a contact order for 2 or 3 nights out of 14 a “shared parenting” arrangement will be anything other than a hollow victory for them.

  8. familoo,
    Where Lawyers are extremely helpful generally in the Court process is when they are advocating for Children’s Guardians.

    Legal Aid funds and other monies should be moved into Children Guardian cases as the supply of Caseworkers and funding is inadequate.

    Many more cases should have a Children’s Guardian appointed, and earlier. They should be funded well for expert reports and it relatively a good use of taxpayers monies to have them represented by lawyers.

    Instead of legal aid funding a parent to stop another parent seeing a child or in the far fewer cases in Private Law funding a parent to see a child. Monies should be directed in far larger quantities and earlier into Children’s Guardians and their advocates plus any expert assessments if necessary.

    Perhaps even funding on a Caseworkers certificate for Therapy as well as assessments.

    Directing Legal Aid in this direction would do far more for children and their needs.

  9. Discombobulated


    I am aware of the issues, I just think that there’s ways and means and I don’t think that it’s right that somebody, who might not 100% agree with everything you say is verbally abused! It’s just not on.

    Most lawyers just cannot be bothered engaging with aggressive discruntled father groups who only see their perspective and I don’t blame them!

    These groups don’t understand the wider picture, just them and their issue. They don’t help themselves. It takes give and take, not verbal abuse until I get what I want! You (as a whole) need to look at the way you are perceived. You need to market yourself a lot better.

    Lucy may not be 100% in agreement with you/others, but at least she is engaging with you and trying to learn/enter into dialogue. So many lawyers would ignore you and your cause; it’d be easier by far; ‘treat her with a bit more respect – she could be doing other things you know!

    I am one of those lawyers who doesn’t have Lucy’s human qualities, patience & empathy – don’t turn any more away.

    F4J and the likes are their own worst enemies. If I was in your position I’d be trying to get support not alienating everyone around me with only my point of view, aggression and little or no concern for public policy and true understanding as to why it’s all about the kids and not parents!!!

    I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but seeing the tactics of F4J and other groups is like watching a car crash unfold.

  10. Discombobulated

    Very well put Northern Lights!

  11. Discomobulated,
    can we try and get beyond the verbal diatribe of one persons view (Matt) please?

    We’ve had 300 odd posts over the past couple of weeks and only a handful have been rants (by lawyers and non-lawyers) but the lawyers continue to focus on those very few rather than the debate, I wonder why?

    I think you are rather confused; I don’t agree with familoo on a number of issues but she gets respect and is treated as fairly as any other poster from me. Plus I’m not F4J either, so can you stop repeating the same complaints about a handful of posts out of 100s that I for one challenged immediately as being unsuitable – Using the few impolite posts as an excuse not to engage in a discussion about the issues themselves is pretty feeble.

    The tactics of F4J have been going on for the last 10 years or so, I’m sure they are not going to listen to you or me, why would they? So let them get on with it and how about you, I and others discuss the issues regarding family law, how about it?

    Northern Lights,
    another verbal diatribe about personalities and misrepresenting them as well; mere repetition of your previous posts. Even you must be finding it rather tedious repeating yourself with no actual content, surely?

  12. I suppose I should be amused by Discombobulated’s comment that we should market ourselves better. F4J has run one of the most remarkable marketing campaigns of this century, repeatedly reaching a very large, even world-wide audience using very limited funds. No other campaign can claim to have been so successful on such modest resources. On one occasion a £250 banner was reported (by independent market observers) to have generated over £30 million in media coverage. F4J is the third most popular campaign amongst the public after Greenpeace and Amnesty and is on the National Curriculum. We have a rapidly growing Facebook presence and 30% of our membership are women. In this country and abroad there are numerous copy-cat groups.

    That is not to say that we can’t do better, or that some of our efforts don’t fall flat, but I doubt we have quite the image problem that lawyers have. And if we are less popular amongst lawyers than amongst the public, why, that’s the whole point.

    I applaud what Lucy is doing here (for the most part), and part of what I think she is trying to do is to stimulate a debate, a dialogue; but I don’t really see that happening. I just see flippancy and bad temper. So rather than accuse us of bullying and flatulence (Northern Lights), why not try to engage with some of the issues Chambers raises? Instead of merely negating his observation that the Children Act is ‘feeble’ why not explore that view? I agree with Lucy that there isn’t going to be any more money, but I also agree with Chambers that it isn’t about money. More of the same is not a solution, and the system doesn’t fail because of a lack of resources.

  13. familoo,
    here’s a suggestion for you ‘before’ you make your post on ‘shared parenting’.

    I’m a member (not Moderator or employee) on the FNF Forum and from time to time they open a specific section where questions and answers can be swapped between members and an invited guest e.g. CMEC – Child Abduction Unit (off the top of my head)

    Why don’t you let them know that you are willing to have a discussion with FNF members on their forum about shared parenting?

    It would help FNF forum members understand your view and you might find it interesting as well.

    The person to contact is Ross Jones (nice guy) who will I am sure be happy to organise it

    If you are going to do a blog on shared parenting then it might be worthwhile engaging with the leading shared parenting charity members on this. I believe you have been to the FNF office on other matters previously but this would be helpful to all in understanding various different views on shared parenting. Certainly assist your blog.

    • Chambers – We’re having a discussion here which FNF members are free to join in on. What I want to do in the first instance is a sort of evidence review of all the various material that you and others have referred to in comments and elsewhere to see what stacks up. I’m going to do that first, and properly formulate my view before I post and before I subject myself to the responses of others. And I hope you won’t mind if I prefer to do that on my own territory in view of past experience.

  14. Discombobulated


    Not all publicity is good publicity. Nor should success necessarily be assessed by revenue.

    I used to work in marketing and so I have a pretty good understanding of how the machine works, and while they have most certainly got a message out there, look at the message and perception it’s left. I do wonder at what cost to them and their cause.

    Fathers’ groups have valid points to make and I agree that they should have a voice and that there should be changes but the way they go about it?!!!! Really?!

  15. familoo,
    this is a lawyers blog and for the most part you will only get the old-timers like me and Nick plus a few others from time to time engaging. We certainly don’t know it all and it would be of real benefit to you for your blog to engage with some parents on their ground about this specific issue.

    You will find that you will be treated courteously and with respect on the FNF Forum (it is moderated), views are welcome as long as they are not aggressive etc – So you have no worries in that respect. Please reconsider it might actually be of benefit to your forthcoming blog.

    nobody can doubt the ongoing immense and hugely valuable contribution of F4J over the years and your post sums it up well.

  16. familoo,
    sorry meant to say, I appreciate your ‘first instance’ approach might work best from your view point. Looking forward to the blog whether before the clocks change again or afterwards.

  17. Nich Langford, you said “That is not to say that we can’t do better, or that some of our efforts don’t fall flat, but I doubt we have quite the image problem that lawyers have. And if we are less popular amongst lawyers than amongst the public, why, that’s the whole point.” (bolding mine)

    I thought that your initial comments about what you have achieved were valid ones, but I found your last sentance both surprising and disappointing. Are you really saying that the point of your campaign is to make yourself unpopular with lawyers? Most lawyers who work in this field want what is best for children, and what is best for our clients, and, as Lucy has said, very few are complacent about the current system or are opposed to changes.

    Attacking lawyers over the shortcomings of the system is like attacking teachers because you don’t like the government’s policy on free schools or the National Curriculum.

  18. Discombobulated

    Well put Bagpuss

  19. Northern Lights


    Lengthy as they have been, there has been little real content in your posts worth addressing. You have seized upon the Australian legislation as something that you believe supports your own position; then by your own admission concede that the outcomes are largely those achieved in our own courts. Even for someone with no real legal knowledge or training, that is a poor argument to advance.
    Contrary to what the ill-informed and misguided of FNF and their ilk appear to believe, you cannot give a poor argument validity by endlessly repeating it and cutting and pasting it ad nauseum onto legal blogs.

    As I’ve said, there actually have been a few valuable posts from non-lawyers on this site (dadzarmy raised a few systemic issues and Nick Langford showed a knowledge of comparative research which is valuable) but you are not even in the ball park of knowing what needs addressing or how.

    You may well get, in time, some form of politician’s weasel wording inserted into the legislation, along the lines of what you believe you want. I suspect you will find that it amounts to little in practise and you will go back to blaming family lawyers for it all.
    Perhaps we’ll club together and send you a box of tissues to wipe the egg off your face.

    Quite why familoo would want to go near FNF is beyond me but a matter for her; if you are the best they can muster to present their case on this blog, it would probably be an exercise in futility, albeit with some comic value. Is there some reason why they can’t comment here? Lucy has said they are welcome to do so. I suppose it may be that, given Lucy’s admirably restrained attitude to moderation, you know that many of them would show themselves to be abusive bullies?

    I really hope that the few articulate voices from the fathers’ rights movements disown those organisations so they can advance the arguments they do have and be heard without being tainted by association with the third sector’s equivalent of a village idiots’ convention.

    I would leave FNF, F4J and the like to making ridiculous comments about single parents and dropping their trousers in front of M&S.

    • Northern Lights – in fairness you are conflating the actions and tactics of FNF with those of F4J which are quite different beasts, and the actions and tactics of organisations and their figureheads with the actions and tactics of individuals who may rove across fora. I don’t think FNF are responsible for any pant removal antics.

  20. Northern Lights

    Familoo, the pant removal stunt was indeed courtesy of your greatest admirer from F4J.
    The ridiculous (and offensive) comment about single parents came from the CEO of FNF- that the only single parents were those where the other parent was dead. I believe it was part of their response to the FJR. Snappy little soundbite.
    But you are quite correct; I don’t believe they have stripped off outside M&S yet although I would imagine many are members of both.

  21. Northern Lights,
    I do take your continuing aggressive approach over the months as a real compliment, thank you.

    The Australian reforms as elsewhere demonstrate a markedly positive change for parents and children. Less litigation, more parents satisfied by the system and overall the judiciary/family professions (bar plenty of lawyers) supportive of the changes.

    Comparing jurisdiction with jurisdiction is not an easy matter but we do know in this country (England&Wales) that the Private family law system is failing many, it is in crisis and has been for some considerable time. Some top judges, top lawyers and many users are calling for radical change.

    What the Australian reforms certainly do show is that the scaremongering by some who don’t want radical change is misplaced (to be kind). There has been no cataclysm in jurisdictions that have moved to a presumption of shared parenting/equal parenting rights, on the contrary satisfaction levels have moved higher.

    Many of those who are opposed to radical change (always plenty within a system who will) acknowledge the present system is failing but can only see extra resources as the answer. It’s not, even if there were the mass monies to pump into the present system it would be unlikely to change very much at all.

    The government are on-board with the need to signal and action change, hopefully it will happen sooner rather than later.

  22. FNF is good enough for the President of the Family Division and other top judges to attend their meetings. FNF are good enough to be on many local FJC’s.

    Not good enough for our ever so friendly Northern Lights tho 🙂

  23. Northern Lights

    Sir Nicholas Wall is a fine president and a compassionate man and it was kind of him to address your volunteer’s conference a few years ago.
    I got bored scrolling through the old list of FJC’s on your link as the majority appear to have told FNF where to go- either “rejected” or “politely rejected.” Whatever point you were trying to make with that link has failed, rather like your argument for renaming a common contact order a “shared parenting” order, even if it is still 2 nights out of 14.
    You are still droning on about the Australian legislation which was examined by Norgrove who, based on its flaws, recommended against the presumption you believe will be a panacea.
    Even D.Cameron has said that any such addition to the legislation will be worded in such a way as to avoid the pitfall and failings of the Australian model.
    I suppose he is just trying to prop up invested interests too…..
    At any rate, I am only giving you an excuse to cut and paste your one post again so until you come up with an argument that actually stands up to scrutiny, I’ll leave you to it.
    As H.P. Lovecraft once said: “It doesn’t interest me. It doesn’t even bore me sufficiently to take my mind off other boredoms.”

  24. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

  25. Discombobulated

    Give it up Chambers -Northern Lights is right!

  26. Northern Lights,
    I know you love talking about FNF (sorry bashing them) but they can’t be that bad (even from your inane partisan view) if the President of the Family Division attended their AGM a couple of years ago. If they host events at Westminster where judges and lawyers are happy to attend and some openly agreeing with the event’s aims. If judges and lawyers go to their branch meetings and some lawyers have been doing it monthly for 10 years +. Or FNF members are on the Family Procedure Rules Committee and in some local FJC’s etc (I could go on)….

    You are confused or have not bothered to read the FJR report, as it is recommending moving away from the ‘contact order’ and residence terms anyway. So the FJR Panel agree with the views of many of the parenting groups to remove this loaded language. Please try and keep up.

    The FJR Panel recognised “The AIFS evaluation suggested a picture of substantial success” regarding the Australian 2006 reforms, in their FJR report.

    However, the FJR Panel decided to concentrate on the concerns of lawyers and other singular interests – Rather than the users, family relationship specialists and the judiciary who were overall positive about the reforms.

    Our government dismissed the recommendations of the FJR Panel very quickly by stating they were going to develop legislation emphasising the importance of both parents. Some government ministers and much of the media were damning of the FJR Panel proposals in this area in particular.

    No need to thank me for keeping you informed of the reality.

  27. Northern Lights


    So your 2 nights out of 14 will be called something else; my point being that it doesn’t make much difference- in reality (at least the reality I deal with in court)
    You go round in ever more nonsensical circles but you can come back and tell us about the huge difference to outcomes that little exercise in semantics provides- in reality.
    In the meantime, I think you have missed your calling in life; if the day job goes, you could try the Department for Transport.
    You could bore a hole in a road.

  28. The proposition that F4J have run a brilliant campaign depends on the measurement you use. They have attracted huge numbers of column inches and changed nothing. The public does not support their solutions and they have built up no political pressure for change. The topic is interesting only to a few. Given that it ought to be of concern to many, the real question is why the vast majority of the population are not bothered. The answer may lie in the fact that the public perceive F4J as wanting publicity as an end in itself.

    Having never previously had to become acquainted with the debate (I’m fortunate) this has been a learning curve. I have been struck by the number of supporters of such groups who believe that the situation in which fathers can find themselves justifies departures from the usual norms of behaviour. It can’t be stated too clearly that such arguments are cock of the highest order. If you can’t be reasonable, polite, impersonal and objective (ish) then you are not arguing or debating. You are either shouting or masturbating – and frequently both.

    But when the behaviour descends into insult, bullying and public abuse it is not simply the norms of normal behaviour that are being ignored. People ONLY behave like that if they are nasty. I have yet to meet a pleasant person whose response to unpleasantness is the type of behaviour displayed by some at F4J. That suggests to me that the column inches are generated by the wish to sell newspapers, rather than sympathy for the “cause”.

    It does seem to me that, as in every other situation in life, you judge people by the company they keep. Personally I have limited tolerance for the arguments that start, “Yes, but”. There is no but – that an argument is advanced by someone unpleasant does not make it less of an argument but it isn’t a plus. That Mr Unpleasant gets publicity doesn’t affect the validity of the argument either. That the argument apparently NEEDS the unpleasant behaviour to keep it on the agenda does affect its validity, and plainly suggests that it lacks merit.

    It seems clear that for too long many fathers were ignored when they made genuine requests to share parenting and that the Courts were too inclined to take a baseline for shared parenting which started from a definition current about 1955. It also seems clear that this is changing, probably too slowly. But most legal changes are too slow, because any system dealing with thousands of cases is going to to be weighed down by inertia. It also seems clear the, at the top, Judges are aware of this and are trying to change it.

    Along with the company kept, the other test that strikes me as helpful is the one which judges people on their efforts to assist, as opposed to their positions or jobs. It is reasonable to support efforts to change and not to extrapolate from ones own horrible experience (or the anecdotal experience of others) to an assertion that everyone engaged in the system is out to get you. It is unreasonable – and frankly stupid – to do otherwise. Conspiracy theories are, invariably, wrong. Again, F4J fail the test, with a long list of enemies and a willingness to trash dissenters for the crime of not agreeing. That kind of behaviour is indefensible and those who defend it damage their own credibility (Yes, but…).

    Finally, the idiotic tendency is marked by an insistence on only their scheme. The inability to contemplate compromise (betrayal, betrayal), or that there may be a better solution (you hate us), or that the proposed solution is simply wrong (you haven’t read half the obscure research I’ve read and listen to this expert who says exactly what I think and must, therefore, be right) is a pretty good indicator that we aren’t having a debate at all, but a lecture. However much lipstick you put on a pig, however much you absail it into Parliament, however many vets say admiringly “it’s a cow” and however much you try and silence those who says it’s still pig, it’s still a pig.

    People who deal with contentious matters on this basis are listened to. Others are not. Far too much of the comment on the previous thread was devoted to ignoring that, extremely straightforward, proposition. That suggests a lack of responsibility. If the argument is so important, and such a good one (and it really may be) then no words are too harsh for those who mess it up by indulging themselves. I am afraid that those of us outside the immediate issue do judge in this way. The unwillingness to take that into account – and the sense of outrage that anyone should say that the King is naked – undermines the entire argument. Which, if it is a good one, is beyond sad. Time for people to traps that nettle, I think.

  29. Northern Lights,
    you being wholly unaware of one of the primary recommendations of the FJR Panel regarding Private family law until I spelt it out for you, says it all.

    Plus you’re ongoing childish posts demonstrates you as merely a very poor wannabe ‘troll’.

  30. Simon, thats a very impressive post for someone not embroiled in the nonsense that is going on. As always, you have a knack with words.

    Not wishing to get caught up in this nonsense, but felt a few thoughts might be useful.

    FnF did a response to the FJR. It was to the best of my memory a few pages. The FLBA did a response of well over 100 pages. Whilst there seems to be a view that lawyers love Family Law as it is and resist change, all I ever read from the FLBA is criticism of the current system and seeking proof of the problems to take to the right people to deal with.

    FnF did have Sir N Wall speak at their annual conference a few years ago. It was a time of a new Chairperson and much hope and optimism for the future. Since then FnF has crashed and burned and has lost a great number of intelligent and knowledgeable people, either banned, suspended or disillusioned.

    As Simon says, there are ways to make arguments, put points across and to have intelligent debate. I have yet to see much of that going on in any of these posts that Lucy does. There certainly wont be any to be found if she ventures into the FnF forum either.

    One other point, I do believe that a large portion of members in FnF are, or were members of F4J. (Having spoken to many)

  31. Far be it from me to defend F4J and similar organisation but Simon is incorrect when he says that the general public are not in favour of shared parenting and treating both parents as equally important to their children.

    He is also incorrect when he says there is no political pressure for change – Government ministers hostile response as well as much of the media’s disdain to the FJR Panels report in this particular area shows this clearly.

    Swiss Tony is confused again.
    He is mixing up submissions to the FJR Panel with press release responses to the FJR report and the Government response.

    FNF put forward a 20 odd page submission to the FJR Panel. FLBA put forward a submission but there does not appear to be a link to it from their site. Perhaps Swiss Tony will provide it?

    The FLBA & Bar Council merely provided a 1 page press release response to the Government response to the FJR report. FNF provided a couple of 1 page responses.

    Of course I could be wrong and if so, I’m sure Swiss Tony will provide a link to the venerated FLBA 100 page ‘response’ to the FJR Report he mentions.

    Not sure 100 page responses to the FJR report are of much use to anyone anyway, when the government response to the FJR report is far more important, surely?

    I take with a pinch of salt his hearsay/gossip about FNF/F4J if he can’t even get his submissions and responses sorted out. Not that I listen to hearsay and gossip if I can help it, it’s usually of little use as any good Judge will tell you.

    • Chambers I think you are misquoting Simon in your first para.

      As it happens I can confirm that the FLBA did produce a lengthy submission to the FJR (prior to final report) and indeed in July 10 I gave evidence to the panel on behalf of the FLBA as a junior member. There was a short press release in response to the final report. The FLBA response to the legal aid green paper was certainly very lengthy too. I’m not sure how you can comment on the usefulness of a report not seen, but anyway…

  32. I do admire Chambers for his perseverance and for maintaining his equilibrium in the face of what might justifiably be called ‘abusive bullying’. If he repeats himself it is because of the consistent misrepresentation of the Australian experience and the blatant refusal of the lawyers on this thread to engage with the debate. Hurling insults and casting aspersions against ‘nasty people’ one has never met is no substitute for substance.

    While Chambers’ repetition does not make his argument any more valid, neither does repeating Norgrove’s findings as if he were some infallible oracle. Norgrove relied entirely on three Australian academics well known to oppose share parenting and he ignored entirely a vast amount of well-known (not obscure) research including a number of meta-analyses. Regardless of which side of the argument one finds oneself, that seems to be an unforgivable failure of scholarship.

    Wading through this research myself, I was surprised by just how profound an effect a relatively modest change in the legislation (such as is proposed) can have, though the effect can take 5 years to reveal itself and 15 to reach maximum impact.

    No doubt this is why those who say any such change will have no effect at all nevertheless oppose it vehemently!

    • I think, gentleman, that everyone is getting a bit tired and grouchy and is lobbing criticisms across the barbed wire. Frankly, I’m a bit bored of it. Someone who disagrees with a particular viewpoint in strong terms is not necessarily an abusive bully.

      I don’t think, Nick, that there is any danger of Chambers being bullied into submission, do you? I also don’t think it lies in the mouth of either you or Chambers to play the bullying card when you have each expressed the view that this is par for the course when discussing such an emotive topic by way of explanation or justification for the use of significantly more heightened language than has been used by Northern Lights, Simon or Swiss have expressed on this thread by Matt O’Connor. I’m not going to express a view on who has or has not been an abusive bully because I don’t think it’s productive, but I am going to call an end to comments if they don’t get more interesting. That would be a shame.

      Discuss the substance by all means, but stop lobbing the “abuse” grenades. All of you.

      Yours grouchily, from a train.


  33. Thanks Nick for your insightful observations as usual.

    no worries as you’re fully aware I pretty much ignore the feeble attempts on here to get a bite, cheers me up no end when they resort to mere scorn instead of reasoned argument.

    I’ve not misquoted Simon regarding the public support and political pressure, just checked.

    Ref Swiss Tony, well I’m not going to bore you again but stand by what I said. I’m sure the FLBA submission was of great value from their point of view as was the FNF submission from theirs (not the few pages as described by him) and my own submission was superlative imho 🙂

    Anyway, I agree it’s getting pretty boring which is disappointing as a debate about the real issues could have been interesting.

  34. Chambers, I think you missed the point, and ignored the sentence which followed my comment about the number of pages, and then sought to ridicule what I had said. That approach doesn’t aid debate.

    My second sentence, and the purpose of the first sentence led to the second:

    ‘Whilst there seems to be a view that lawyers love Family Law as it is and resist change, all I ever read from the FLBA is criticism of the current system and seeking proof of the problems to take to the right people to deal with.’

    1 page of Simon Myersons writing would be worth 100 pages of my own, and nobody would disagree that quantity is the be all and end all but the point was – Lawyers are not rubbing their hands together enjoying the system as it is.

    The perception from FnF and F4J is that lawyers are only interested in getting their legal aid slips signed at the end of the hearing. If you saw the constant criticism of the system you would perhaps take a different view.

    I try to avoid getting into these threads because parts of comments are taken out of context and then a whole theme follows from there, but there are issues to discuss, and it may be a leap of faith that you would be unwilling to take, but lawyers are not child abusing fat cats that resist change.

    You know who I am, as does Lucy, and once I sort out my profile I will use my real name rather than my student blog name, but I am a member of FnF and a member of the FLBA.

    There is a lot in common between them, but the approach is on polar opposites. There is a lot to learn from the people being constantly attacked and vilified as child abusers.

    Second point, I doubt that many people outside those involved in Family Law are in the slightest bit interested, as Simon says. People join FnF, sort out their problems, and very very few remain to help others. Once their problems are dealt with, they go. After 35 years the membership is on par with the FLBA. If more stayed there would be thousands, but there are not.

    The general public see fathers apart from their children and assume there must be a good reason for it. They see F4J climbing on roofs, and think ‘Ah, he is a nutter and I wouldnt let him near my children, no wonder he cant see his’ They dont see it as NRPs do, that he is there out of desperation, frustration, and being pushed to the limits by the way the system works. I have been there myself and studied law to be able to help others better than I could otherwise do. Get that message across, and you might turn the tide.

    As for the judges being out of touch and anti fathers, and this touches on one of the problems fathers face in this guys approach, I was recently in court with a father who holds a position in FnF. (I was his McKenzie) He wanted Shared Residence.

    [I’ve had to edit your post because it gives details of an individual case, which is a shame because you made the point rather well using the example you gave. Sorry. Lucy]

    The essence of this post is, who you (and I use that term loosely as Fathers Rights, Mothers Rights, anyone fighting for contact) are fighting the wrong people, and would do better to know your enemy, and work with them because they pretty much want the same thing as you do.

    Barristers work extremely hard, do have a conscience, are not fat cats for the majority, are not child abusers, have to do things they don’t like, but it is their job and they would lose their job if they didn’t. Barristers when they complete their training have a wide variety of areas of law to go into. Family Law is not renowned for being well paid, legally challenging, or high profile. But for the majority it is a worthwhile and rewarding job.

    If you want to pick out snippets from that and respond, fine, but if you would prefer to take the points I make and respond to them as points, then even better.

    (I don’t know if the FLBA would give you a copy of their submission if you ask for it, or if it is published anywhere, but it isn’t my place to give you a copy, sorry)

  35. Swiss Tony,
    as you have addressed your post to me it seems, I’ll try to address your points.

    If you have bothered to read my earlier posts you will see that I happily acknowledge plenty of lawyers want to change the family law system for the better – I simply don’t agree with some lawyers views of the best way and some others I do agree with.

    I am not interested in the perception of FNF/F4J about lawyers or lawyers of them, neither is Nick. However, the lawyers and yourself keep bringing up FNF/F4J rather than discussing the issues regarding family law.

    I don’t know who you are and don’t really care whether you are a member of the FLBA, FNF or the National Trust. If you are opposing a introduction of shared parenting legislation then I will challenge your view.

    I’m not interested in discussing FNF, your view or mine or anyone’s view of them but again for some reason people keep bringing them and F4J up on this thread.

    A Shared Residence Order has little or nothing to do with future shared parenting legislation, particularly as ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ is a dead duck according to the FJR report.

    Talking about judges being out of touch and anti-fathers is a red herring as well, not sure why you have brought it up. Nothing to do with what me and Nick have been trying to discuss. It is the system not the individual personalities that is the real issue as I have pointed out time and time again.

    I’m not fighting for contact and neither are the shared parenting organisations; I’m putting forward arguments for both parents to be able to be treated fairly by the system as that is what is best for children. This will only happen by reform set out by the government.

    Another red herring from you regarding barristers/lawyers being child abusing fat cats etc – Who has raised that on here? Only you! As for barristers career choices, sorry wholly uninterested and I don’t buy the sainthood implication either.

    Points addressed.

  36. Chambers,

    Nice response.

    I am sure it will encourage others to join the debate.


  37. @ Nick Langford, Chambers, etc
    “it is because of the consistent misrepresentation of the Australian experience”

    I’ll be honest—I don’t have the time or inclination to conduct a thorough review of both the AIFS report into the 2006 Australian reforms and the Norgrove review to assess where the two diverge. I’m not sure if any of you have either, or if you’re coming at this via secondary or tertiary sources.

    In any event. The 2006 amendments in Australia were not solely about the introduction of a presumption of shared parenting. Much of the confusion about the Australian experience seems to stem from people looking at the positive conclusions found in the Executive Summary of the AIFS report and travelling no further.

    The AIFS report praises a lot of good stuff that came out of the 2006 reforms. The systemic and procedural changes seem to have gone down very well. But, as you read through the report, the legislative changes (creating the 1st presumption) are marked with a degree of reservation about how well it protects the welfare of the child and the difficulties in making the legislation work in practice.

    It would be awfully ironic if those who attack Norgrove for misrepresenting the Australian experience were themselves seeking to misrepresent the same. But unless both sides are relying on the other being unwilling or unable to read the AIFS report, the Australian reform is what it is. No amount of trying to say it is something else makes it so.

    At the end of the day, the argument has sunk to the level of arguing about the manner in which the matter is discussed. While obviously the form of the argument—as Simon points out—matters insofar as it affects one’s ability to sway the audience, it isn’t important.

    Two points, that I believe need to be aired if the debate can make forward.

    1) Reasonable ex-partners sort out their childcare arrangements between them. Seriously. The cases that need anything other than a consent order, by definition, involve at least one party that can or will not act reasonably which prevents the parties agreeing between themselves what is in the best interest of the child.

    Courts are always going to be extremely wary of giving joint & several parental responsibility to two adults that are still ‘at war’ with each other. If they can’t agree what is the best course of action for the child when deciding the framework of their care for the child, how the hell are they going to come to agreement on specific issues?

    2) We already have case-law that is amenable to the symbolic considerations of a shared residence order even if the actual time-split is nowhere near 50:50. Re A (a child) (joint residence: parental responsibility) [2008] EWCA Civ 867 (apologies for a lack of link, however if you stick the citation into BAILII it comes up automatically) remains, so far as I know, the leading authority on the declarative value of shared residence orders (it has subsequently been confirmed by the Court of Appeal, let me know if you want citations).

    Focusing purely on what legal changes you would like to see, what is it exactly that you want to see changed? I’m not asking about outcomes: how, in light of point one above, would you like to see this presumption of shared parenting framed?

    Leave off the why for the time being. Just try starting with the what.

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