Open Justice – Closed Forum

I’m open minded. I went to browse the fathers4justice website today to see what they had to say (be warned the quicktime on this site hangs up my browser, it may do likewise to yours). I was confronted at the outset with the singularly unfortunate quote ‘A Verbal Machinegun’. An epithet to be proud of for an organisation concerned with the welfare of children.

The site quotes an interesting mix of Bentham and Ghandi. They are running a ‘Judgebusting’ Campaign which aims: ‘to either enlighten and educate the judiciary or undermine their positions to the point where they become untenable.’ That sounds to me not a little threatening, and when read in the context of the whole page is unlikely to do much to advance the cause of dad’s struggling to get contact.

The website publishes a list of comments or actions on the part of judges, taken wholly out of context. You cannot sum up a case or a child’s life or family circumstances in one line. The snippets published from these cases might be examples of injustice at work but who knows? – in reality they tell us nothing. They do not demonstrate judicial impropriety or error, although they clearly highlight the difficulties (and possibly the benefits in respect of preventing damage caused by sloppy reporting) of the privacy rule in family proceedings.

They have apparently put together a ‘Blueprint for Family Law in the 21st Century’ and a ‘Family Justice on Trial’ document which ‘comprehensively decimates every argument used to support and excuse the current secret system of family justice’. I’d genuinely like to read such documents to see what they have to say. Any suggestions about how we should properly balance a child’s need for privacy against the principle of open justice should be thrown into the debate.

But for reasons which escape me Fathers4 justice do not make these apparently important documents generally available. They are available only to members. And since the fathers4justice website publishes a poster reading ‘Family Lawyers (crossed through with a big red circle and line) – stop the family law gravy train’ I’m guessing that I would not be welcome amongst their ranks, in spite of the fact that I spent about 50% of my time representing Fathers to the best of my ability (and getting them results for which they are often thankful).

If fathers4justice really want to campaign productively on behalf of fathers they would do better to disseminate their wisdom widely and freely rather than ask a £30 joining fee before sending their material out to the already converted. 

If fathers4justice want open justice – lets have open discussion. Publish the documents so that they can be openly critiqued. Stamping of feet and whingeing about how ‘its not fair’ is not debate.

11 thoughts on “Open Justice – Closed Forum

  1. You can download the F4J ‘Blueprint for Family Law in the 21st Century’ for free here.

    I am one of its authors, and I look forward to ‘open discussion’ with you about it.

    I haven’t seen ‘Family Justice on Trial’ myself yet either, but perhaps its author, Nick Langford, can be persuaded to furnish you with a copy. I’ll drop him a line.

  2. why thank you. i look forward to reading it.

  3. Hi familoo (is that your real name?) you are very welcome to read the Family Justice on Trial document and you’ll be delighted to hear it is reproduced in Matt’s excellent new book, Fathers 4 Justice: the Inside Story, which Amazon is offering at a very reasonable £7.78. Alternatively give me a suitable email address and I can forward an updated pdf version (when I’ve finished it). The published version doesn’t reflect the most recent developments in family law, such as new practices within CAFCASS or the refusal of this government to consider open justice.

    As for a debate, we certainly have no fear of this, and welcome a wider public debate, which is certainly overdue, but we also have to raise money for campaigning, and took the decision, somewhat reluctantly, to provide these documents as part of the membership package.

  4. Well, I’m still ploughing through the blueprint document which I’ve now accessed so I’m in no immediate rush for this! So I’ll get back to you on that if I may.

    But in the meantime, and for what its worth:

    I don’t see the logic of making people pay to see your core documents – aren’t they at the heart of your campaign? I assume that they legitimise your position in a way that no amount of spiderman antics can, because they set out the arguments behind the direct action? Judging from blog4justice’s posts (http://www.blog-4-justice.org/blog.php?itemid=107 )that certainly seems to be a view shared by at least one of F4J’s erstwhile supporters.

    I know you need to fundraise, but if the only people who read the documents are those who are prepared to join up without first hearing your arguments in full, a) whats the point of the documents and b) isn’t that a rather restricted membership?

    If F4J is confident in the strength of its arguments it ought to follow (surely) that wider dissemination of those arguments would encourage a far broader and more numerous membership who were prepared to support them? You’d actually persuade people to join who might not necessarily perceive themselves to have been wronged – but people who simply agree with your arguments and think you deserve support.

  5. Nick, ‘familoo’ is a pseudonym. The blog is supposed to be anonymous, because the author thinks it might land her in hot water (not sure why).
    But if you google ‘familoo’ (or simply click on the signature itself), you’ll find the author’s profile page here. Doh!
    Mind you, I thought the sidebar link to Chambers was a bit of a giveaway in the first place…

  6. oh dear god, if the blog was meant to be anonymous I wouldn’t have put a link to my chambers and I wouldn’t have made my profile public.

    I don’t think i’ve said anything to land me in hot water but you two aren’t likely to be persuaded.

    If you two want to chit chat or discuss things between yourselves maybe you can go post on your own blogs, hmm?

  7. I realise that, Graeme, I was just querying the need for anonymity. “Familoo” sounds like some unisex appliance you might buy at B&Q.

    Familoo, I agree with your argument, but it was not my decision; I shall pass your comments on. The Blueprint was intended as a manifesto; the Family Justice on Trial document (let’s call it FJOT) was designed to update the Blueprint (which was written some years ago) and to provide verifiable evidence for some of the claims it makes, which are not referenced in the original document. My hope was that it would provide members with the facts they need when talking to MPs, interviewers or the public. It is rather too long to expect non-members to read it for themselves, and MPs, in particular, seem to have short attention spans.

    We have also provided separate reports on CAFCASS, the CSA, and forced adoption, and I intend to start work on the links between gang membership and fatherlessness.

  8. But it’s only sad, mad, bad dads like us who post to blogs like these.

    More seriously, read the documents, and then we can have a proper debate about the issues involved. I for one would be interested to read the comments of someone who works in the industry; I too try to be open-minded. With any luck others will join in as well.

  9. I thought all dads were sad, mad or bad 😉 no?

    I do geniunely plan to read the docs and report back. But I’ve got to prioritise work for actual clients first and fit the blog in around it.

    I have only browsed the first few pages so far but I’ve already identified your point about needing to properly reference claims – on first read there seem to be several gaps in the stats / evidence you might expect to see supporting the claims. But I’ll bear in mind the fact that the FJOT is designed to rectify this flaw.

    Anyway, back to work.

  10. Haven’t you read it yet, Familoo?

  11. @nick langford: no I’m sorry I haven’t – been tied up with other things. Pretty busy at the moment. But I haven’t forgotten it and its on my ‘to do’ list…

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