Platitudes and banalities from the Family Justice Minister

family law

As I reported here yesterday, last week the relationships charity Relate published a new report Breaking up is hard to do, aimed at “assisting families to navigate family relationship support before, during, and after separation”. Amongst other things, the report calls for a national helpline and for a single point of access to support and information.

As I also mentioned yesterday, Caroline Dinenage MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Family Justice (who I shall henceforth refer to by the rather more manageable term ‘Family Justice Minister’), spoke in response to the report at a launch event held by Relate. Her speech, it is fair to say, does not fill me with confidence for the future of the family justice system in this country.

Reading through it, the speech gives the impression of being lifted lock, stock and barrel off the dusty shelf of meaningless government platitudes and banalities. It could, in fact, have been a speech given by any government minister over the past five years, amended simply by reference at the beginning to whoever happens to be hosting said government minister.

Let us look at a few examples of the profundities that slipped from the lips of our learned Family Justice Minister.

Here’s a good one to start with:

“We know that it’s very sad when a family breaks up and an acrimonious split between parents can have damaging effects on children”

Really? Who would have thought it? I’m so glad that we can call upon such wisdom from our government ministers. Despite the Minister’s suggestion otherwise, I honestly had no idea that acrimonious splits between parents could have damaging effects upon children. That gem of information has changed my entire outlook upon family law.

Now, of course no government minister worth their salt can miss an opportunity to plug mediation, and, sure enough, the Family Justice Minister did not disappoint, telling us that:

“…people have a strong preference for avoiding court, which they see as daunting”

Well, blow me down. I always thought people loved going to court. All that dressing up and formality – who would want to miss that? Now I know just how wrong I was.

Needless to say, whilst eager to encourage out of court settlement the government is quick to absolve itself from any financial responsibility for helping couples reach agreement. The Family Justice Minister therefore told us:

“I want to foster a cultural change to enable people to solve their own disputes in a less acrimonious way and not look to government to do it for them”

In other words, you’re on your own. But then, we have all known that, since the government abolished legal aid for most private law family matters.

Lastly, we had this. I’m not sure whether it is a threat, a promise or (most likely) just another bit of meaningless government spin. The Family Justice Minister told us that:

“We will be reforming our courts system to transform it into a service that is built around the needs of all the people who use it and which will fundamentally improve access to justice for citizens.”

Funny, but I always thought that our courts system was there to satisfy the needs of those who have to use it. Clearly, it has some other purpose. Still, it’s good to know that a government that has denied proper access to justice for millions is now going to change its ways and do something to improve access. Exactly what it will be doing, I have no idea.

Relate’s report can be found here. The Justice Minister’s speech can be found here.

Image by caruba via Flickr

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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6 comments

Just a person - December 22, 2015 at 7:10pm

Oh dear. Can this person be worse than the Children’s Minister ?

Maybe, we could grab a pizza prior to attending court? A curry? Within the actual building.

WiFi access and perhaps massage chairs.

I suppose, silver service would be out of the question?

Andrew - December 22, 2015 at 7:16pm

I spent yesterday evening looking after my baby great-niece. The speech reminds me of the nappy I chucked out. Full of sh*t.

Vincent McGovern. - December 22, 2015 at 7:30pm

Yes Minister obviously had her undivided attention when Sir Humphrey was dispensing meaningless platitudes. There should be an annual awards ceremony every year for such meaningless drivel. Sadly it demonstrates complete ineptness on her part and worse this Government has absolutely no clue of how to deal with the broken family court system which it has made worse by the removal of so many experienced staff dealing with newcomers in every court throughout the land.

As for the removal of legal aid long overdue but sadly still remains to be harvested by unscrupulous solicitors riding the domestic violence bandwagon knowing access is virtually guaranteed to be dependent on gender. So much for Welfare of Child Paramountcy when half of all parents are effectively denied access and support from local agencies and then the second barrel of legal representation for those who too often seek to remove loving parents (95% fathers) from their children’s lives.

Not really a problem of course as so many apologists will blindly insist there is no gender discrimination in the family court system. The selective of vision will always see what is suitable from their standpoint. So good of the Minister to avoid the issues.

Wiseacre - December 22, 2015 at 11:25pm

Good to see that you are full of charity and the Christmas spirit already! May I suggest a little assignment for you, to do over the holiday break?
How about you writing the speech you would have given, setting out what YOU would want from the family justice system. Now that would be really useful.

I tell you what I want, what I really really want. - December 23, 2015 at 9:54am

In response to the above request, made from (Wiseacre)
I really do not think it a practical request, for, nothing shall be listened to, nor applied from any Government body. I am not sure if any person has looked through the appeal courts decision under the heading “Child welfare paramount in relocation cases” ?
I have many areas that I would like to address with such a very lengthy and complex issue.
Firstly, Payne v Payne is a case which I continually see utilised within many cases of family law, a bench mark case so to speak. The child in this court hearing was 4 years old when the case was heard on the 13th Feb 2001, which would now make this child approximately 18 year of age. It is with the best will of any human soul or judge for that matter, to place into context “in the child’s best interest” but, this child was 4 years of age, absolutely no input into their real choice, Mother, in this case and most relating to relocation cases, had imposed her choice.
My question is, did the judges in this case and all the other cases actually get it right?
Why can this person, who is now an adult, not provide how they actually feel? How this decision to restrict one parent from her life and the magnitude in which it made?

In the actual case – RE C (internal relocation)

It appears from my perspective after reading through as much of the order that I could endure, primarily because it became far too complicated for me to really understand, that the three judges placed significant weight that over ruled a CAFCASS report and the choice of a 10 year old child to go live in the countryside.
Can a 10 year old child have the inclination of such a massive move? Such a child will obviously be relishing the excitement, like a holiday without the realisation that this is permanent, that the novelty element will wear away when all the excitement and all the promises in which the mother had made (maybe a horse) erodes. We will never know, because as much as three judges feel they are doing the “right thing” without actually following the progress of that child, who really knows ? I personally do not believe anyone does and it crushes that terminology of “the child’s best interest”
All children within family law cases are to young to know any different with many experiencing elements of alienation etc. A recent research study even suggested that girls more than boys struggle without the assistance and love that a biological father would obviously provide.

A few things that I do not comprehend, hopefully someone legally trained can evoke my newt mind.
In the recent changes to the children’s act, which started with “Equal Parenting”, amended to read “Parental Involvement” thereafter into its final version of “Parental Involvement of Some Kind” with the main adversaries being that wonderful Butler-Sloss and Edward Timpson MP. “Some kind” is appalling and although the three judges touched upon article 8, again, it was of absolutely no significance and another man and child have their human rights breached because “some kind” is not family life, its how do you say “upsetting”
It factually destroys many lives and why is the suicide rate so high for the men that have to endure such a torrid existence, who cares?

That such distinguished and highly intelligent Judges, MP’s etc feel any child benefit’s with one parent.
If any person, Judge or MP can provide 1 single name of a child, now an adult, who can exemplify such detail, that they enjoyed having only parent in their life, I will take everything back and go and stand in the corner with my hands on my head for as many hours as you would like.
I only know of one child that has been very vocal about that massive impact that such a decision made with her life, how unbearable she actually felt and now has a loving relationship with her dad.

The principle of “the child’s best interest” is flawed if these children have no voice and the family court system has absolutely no idea if their decision’s have actually been correct. How can they ?

I personally did not give away my DNA, I did not do a deal with the devil and as a man I want something done to address this inequality, its grotesque, a living nightmare to have a child and see so very little of them, find me any man living under such conditions that enjoys such an existence?

We are not a society if we are not equal, that preference is made to women for absolutely no fathomable explanation, its discrimination and an antiquated mind-set from the Victorian era.
I work, I can cook, I am man, and I am sick of being a second class citizen.

Luke - December 23, 2015 at 11:04pm

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“We will be reforming our courts system to transform it into a service that is built around the needs of all the people who use it and which will fundamentally improve access to justice for citizens.”
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I really hope that they will do that – which means reduce costs – e.g. one good move would mean going from an adversarial family court system to an inquisitorial one.
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So yes, from your smug point of view on things John I hope it is indeed a threat…

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