The initiatives announced yesterday by Simon Hughes and the MoJ have already been met with an outcry among some of the top legal bloggers, the silence from the father’s groups is however deafening. Fathers4Justice are too busy looking inward at each other to have noticed what is happening in the world outside their window – absolutely no comment whatsoever on Clause 11, or on the new reforms announced yesterday. None. Too busy asking for donations I guess….FnF have posted a few links on social media sites, but again no comment from them. I admire the work they do at local branch level, but as a national organisation, the need to be outspoken is greater than ever. The only voices’ I’ve heard recently are the legal profession and legal bloggers, Michael Robinson from the Custody Minefield, the author Nick Langford and Nick Woodall. Where is everyone else??
The helpline pilot that will run for just six months from November will be run by CAFCASS, who routinely let down children, mothers and fathers, who are not trusted by parents, who are not independent and have an agenda to work from (and it’s not a child-focused agenda) – the Government seriously think parents will trust this helpline, that this helpline will help parents from start to conclusion? What will happen to parents whose situation is still on-going when the pilot ends? Where they turn to for the support and advice they so desperately need? These are real people with complicated situations that centre around children – not lab rats with which to experiment upon.
While the expansion of in-house support for Litigants while at Court has potential, the fact it will most likely be staffed by local advice centres (read CAB) who are already facing funding issues and over-stretched resources as it is – and most volunteers are not legally qualified or well-versed in family law (there are a few, such as the volunteers on the Wikivorce advice line); or students is deeply concerning. Marilyn Stowe says in her blog :
What skills or experience do young graduates have in law, negotiation, practice and procedure?
Students are in no position to give legal advice. This is especially true in divorce cases. What kind of reassurance will they be able to offer sometimes much more mature adults who are going through one of the most traumatic periods in their life? Are they really equipped to deal with the kinds of emotional outbursts that are common in these kinds of cases?
To expect students to replace proper legal advice and support is wrong – the Government now realise that they fucked up in an unimaginable way by the way Legal Aid has been withdrawn, and the effects that this has had on those caught up in the travesty that is now the Family Justice system. They are now busily trying to rectify this almighty fuck-up by throwing a few “initiatives” into the wind when really all they are doing is pissing in the snow (never eat yellow snow).
While the Norgrove Report was not a success, and fell short of what was expected; most of the recommendations have either been ignored or watered down into such a diluted state that the original recommendations are almost unrecognisable – and yet again, these new proposed reforms ignore the Norgrove Report completely.
One recommendation in the Report was to have Hubs, to provide an actual meeting place for parents to get the support, information and advice they would require while going through separation and post-separation; what we got instead was the completely useless and unused Sorting Out Separation App with it’s clunky and unfriendly interfacing – not to mention the often inappropriate signposting suggestions that the App would make.
Imagine having physical Hubs in every town – proper, warm, welcoming, safe meeting places where parents can go, seek help, support, and information, advice on a whole range of issues that can and do arise during and after separation. Proper face to face help from a wide range of local professionals who can support them through-out and ensure that no-one who approaches them falls through the gaps. This is achievable, with co-ordination, a little bit of effort and not too much funding. People need to be fully informed, be armed with the greatest peaceful ammunition that there is – facts and correct information, so that they can make intelligent, informed decisions, see through the bullshit from the other side – pimping up the Sorting Out Separation App and the Gov.UK sites simply isn’t enough.
Hughes is very critical of those who use the Courts for dispute-solving – “ Too many people end up fighting expensive and confrontational court battles and I am determined that more people resolve their problems outside of the courts” Does he think that people just don’t bother with alternative dispute resolutions? Does he not realise that for many, Court is the only option after all else has failed? How on earth does one person come to an agreement with a former spouse or partner who simply will not engage with them? For some, mediation is not suitable due to domestic abuse or when one party has whisked the children off to the other end of the country and refuses to reveal their whereabouts. Mediation has its merits, but it is not the Golden Goose that many seem to think it is. If Mr Hughes thinks that people don’t try hard enough to resolve their issues outside of court, then I invite him to spend time on the Wikivorce forum, and time answering calls on the helpline – perhaps then he would realise what is actually happening, what people are actually experiencing and the obstacles they face on a daily basis.
Lost in the midst of all this, of these initiatives, proposals, of furious back-peddling; are the children and families caught up in this mess of a justice system. None of this means better outcomes for children, less waiting time for cases to be heard – to be resolved – their voices being listened to, to me it seems as though it is anything but in the best interests of the children.