Encouraging parties not to engage with the court is irresponsible

family courts

The other day I was reading a Court of Protection judgment concerning the best interests of a 62 year old woman who was born with cerebral palsy. In the course of the judgment I came across the following:

“The second respondent, FW, has not attended court. He came to court upon one occasion during the course of these proceedings but has chosen not to attend this hearing. I am satisfied that he is well aware of the fact that the case is listed for hearing this week … It seems that the second respondent is of the view there is a conspiracy between establishment figures and that the court is corrupt, and therefore he has decided not to attend at this hearing. Thus, it seems there is no good reason why the case should not proceed in his absence. He does not intend to be present whenever the case is heard.”

I’ll just repeat those words: “It seems that the second respondent is of the view there is a conspiracy between establishment figures and that the court is corrupt, and therefore he has decided not to attend at this hearing.” Sadly, I seem to be coming across this sort of thing with increasing frequency whilst reading judgments.

Now, I don’t know whether FW decided for himself that the court was corrupt and that he should not therefore engage with it, or whether someone else suggested it to him. However, as we all know, the narrative of corrupt courts is prevalent these days, and it is therefore an idea that can be easily picked up by litigants aggrieved at how their case is progressing.

I see the ‘corrupt family courts’ narrative everywhere, including in social media, in the mainstream media and even in the comments on this blog. And it’s such an enticing narrative too: “I don’t like the way my case is going – it can’t be my fault, so it must be the fault of the corrupt system and a biased judge”. What an easy cop-out.

But it is more than just a cop-out. Whether you like it or not, your case is going to be decided by the court, not via social media or any other means. As I have said here recently, you can’t circumvent the system. And the court can only decide a case on the basis of the evidence put before it. By disengaging with it you are denying yourself a right to be heard. You may actually have a good case, or at least some relevant points to contribute that will enlighten the court, but the court will never know if you do not put your case. You have thrown in the towel, voluntarily giving up on any chance to persuade the court to accept your point of view.

And even if you hadn’t been able to persuade the court to accept your point of view, remaining engaged with the process can give you other benefits, even if they are not the result you really wanted. An obvious example is the father who seeks contact with his child. If he disengages with the process he is likely to end up with no contact at all, whereas if he remains engaged the court is likely to award him some contact, even if it is less than he sought.

And further to that, if a party remains engaged it is just possible that they will learn why their case was not accepted by the court. They may just realise that what they had previously been certain was best was actually not. They could find themselves seeing things differently, and having a change of heart.

In short, not engaging with the court process is a course of action that can only lead to disaster for that party, and anyone who encourages it, whether directly or indirectly, is acting irresponsibly. They are effectively denying justice to their ‘victims’, many of whom, I would suggest, probably do not really appreciate the consequences of disengaging.

It’s all too easy to follow the crowd and pronounce on social media or elsewhere that the family courts are corrupt, but calling the courts corrupt does not make it so. It does, however, make it more likely that it will encourage aggrieved litigants to deny themselves any chance of justice. That is not doing them any favours whatsoever. In fact, it is doing them a great disservice, which could have detrimental consequences for the rest of their lives.

The case that I referred to at the beginning of this post is Newcastle-Upon-Tyne City Council v TP, and the full judgment can be read here.

Image by Loz Pycock via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

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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12 comments

spinner - April 24, 2017 at 7:10pm

I don’t think the family courts are corrupt but they are clearly biased against men. I would advise any man getting involved with the courts to cooperate as little as possible with them and always remember “your” solicitor has an allegiance first and foremost to the courts not to you. So always be very guarded in conversations with your own lawyer and be careful about what you disclose to your own lawyer as they are an organ of the court even though you are paying them.

Joseph ALLA - April 24, 2017 at 8:39pm

…not engaging with the court process is a course of action that can only lead to disaster for that party, and anyone who encourages it, whether directly or indirectly, is acting irresponsibly…
That is absolute bollocks
An obvious example is the father who seeks contact with his child. If he disengages with the process he is likely to end up with no contact at all, whereas if he remains engaged the court is likely to award him some contact, even if it is less than he sought. That says it all doesnt it> You just left the cat out of bag now. If the court is not corrupt why would you argue in some of your past articles that the family court needs to be reformed then?

Paul - April 24, 2017 at 11:35pm

Well im engauging the proccess as we speak. I have been given the oppertunity to state my case. Unfortunenatly my experiences so far entirely the colaborate the corrupt court sentiment. I eould lovevthe system to prove me wrong. Its not a nice feeling to feel like your a pawn in a rich mans game who can stop you from seeing your kids at his lesure.
In my case I have the problem that my kidshave been alienated and have stated they do not wishvto see me. Of course tge ex has alienated them from my entire family too. But it is still apparently incredibly hard prove alienation has taken place.
Seriously ??? Its blindingly obvious to anyone who took a look at the facts. But hey. Burden of evidence.
Seems to me the burden of evidence only seems to unburden in courts when enough palms have been paid.
Family courts should not be advaserial. Its adveserial relationships which are the problem causing more rifts in court will never be the right solution. We need a co-operative system. Both sides offering reasonable solution and the most unreasonable camp loses the arguement. Of every one is reaching a concensus that the courts are corupt then maybe it is time well gave the system a reform.
I am not expecting a possative outcome because the courts are ‘Immpotant’ when dealing with unco-opperative mothers. If mother will not co-opperate then courts back off and take no enforcement action. There isva feeling that courts will not take action to enforce orders placed on women. This is entirely supported by statistics and anicdotal evidence.
Mothers get away with murder.
We have a princcess culture in this country and justice wise we are far from reaching gender equality.

spinner - April 25, 2017 at 10:24am

So true and if they go in there and turn on the waterworks the nice old middle class male judge will literally jump at them with a box of tissues in my case and effectively just write whatever order they wish. The best antidote to this was the unfortunately few female judges I had, literally it was like night and day and they took no crap from the ex.

BL - April 25, 2017 at 1:02pm

CORRUPTION its certain especially in family courts.
Can be proven easily by supplying names of family court judges who have invested in the private foster care industry.
Family court judges supply the “product” to enhance their investment,

JamesB - April 25, 2017 at 1:12pm

A further point. Upon attending I found it very upsetting having to sit there and listen to a supposed professional QC barrister make up stories and names about me being a monster who neglects abuses his children and ex wife etc where I am a good father and husband and have always been. I do not hear you say much about that (BS) John.

JamesB - April 25, 2017 at 1:27pm

Its laughable in a pythonesque way with a black humour. You pay to be insulted to try and see your children and obtain an unenforceable contact order over many hearings. Like the day after tomorrow. On a good day, you might get the judge to moan at your ex who then complies for a few weeks before not seeing them again then a further hearing and a reduction and see them less and what do you do? Go back and see them less, or see them less, or kiss ex’s backside and beg for contact. I went the middle option. For me the order of options is:
1. Beg for contact
2. Take what is offered
3. Go to court and see them less
4. Give up
I went for option 2. If I was less proud I would have gone for option 1. Many go for each of the options. They are all valid. Except court, which is ineffectual with so many hearings telling us to sort it out between us. The only time court might be effective might be like the case with Paul where there is no contact, to try and get some contact, but to be honest I have not seen anything like that, all I have seen first hand, and I have seen a lot, is court reducing contact to try and make it happen by placating the resident parent. I have heard of court switching residency for children who’s parent wouldn’t let them see their other parent over years for no reason and he was whiter than white (which in these places really is white saintly), however that is hearsay and was news from a lawyer with bias.

JamesB - April 25, 2017 at 1:31pm

I can see why people don’t attend or give up. Or walk out. I have done all three. As with the Jean Charles da Silva e de Menezes enquiry and the establishment investigating the police blazing away at unarmed civilian, there comes a time where you have to stand up and walk out swearing at these dirty people.

JamesB - April 25, 2017 at 1:36pm

To sit there and nod, to me, is to support the court. Its a zero sum game where the only way to win is not to play. Unless you are the resident parent, then, provided the kids see the other parent from time to time, you can do what you want and get the other parent to pay for it. Crazy. Best we move to enforceable contact orders and less acrimonious court, like the Scottish system, or Australian type family centres, rather than giving up on the thing and asking the Imam as millions in this country seem to increasingly do.

JamesB - April 25, 2017 at 1:58pm

Imam, or Rabi, or Priest or Reverand. I had thought before now that we had improved things in a secular way with pluralism, with court being fair. That was before I went to court. Since I have been (over 50 times) my opinion of the places has deteriorated a lot. I can see why they keep the doors closed as it is unpalatable what I see go on in those (E and W family court) places.

JamesB - April 25, 2017 at 3:00pm

There are so many examples of poor establishment court orders and processes, I could list so many but wont waste my time. Stephen Lawrence investigation and Hillsborough are two to start, Dodgy Dossier, etc. To claim that what goes on behind the closed doors of the family law justice system is pushing it. We don’t know as is not open but in my experience and those I have seen they are not fair places and they are places I will try and ensure my children avoid ever having to go to, and that is why politicians are deaf on the subject and are not willing to put money towards it, not unless it shows willingness to clean up its act which it should be able to do relatively easily by enforcing court contact orders and more formulas and less harm to peoples lives.

BillyO - April 29, 2017 at 9:13am

Each case is different. So it’s for the individual to decide the pros and cons of not engaging.
In my case I was faced with not seeing my son and being financially raped, or not seeing my son and having a life. I chose the latter, against lawyers advice obviously.

I now have a great life and I would advise others to do the same PROVIDING they have no assets in the jurisdiction.
Many, mainly men don’t have the option as they stand to lose property etc.
If that’s your situation then perhaps engage courts and lawyers. It’s a no win situation really.
Perhaps you will get to see your kids but it won’t be 50/50. A lot less is you have a vindictive ex who is prepared to make false accusations which eventually escalate legal fees.

Im happy with my choice. I would do the same again in the situation.

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