The purpose of this post is to review the membership of this Family Justice Review Panel. It is,
- Melissa Case & Nicola Hewer, Director of Family and Criminal Justice Policy, MOJ (Chair)
- Professor Liz Trinder, University of Exeter
- Professor Rosemary Hunter FAcSS, University of Kent
- Professor Mandy Burton, University of Leicester
- Mr Justice Stephen Cobb, Judiciary
- District Judge Katherine Suh, Judiciary
- Nicki Norman, Acting Co-Chief Executive, Women’s Aid
- Dierdre Fottrell QC & Lorraine Cavanagh QC (joint representatives), Association of Lawyers for Children
- Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for England (Children & Families)
There is no father-friendly voice on that Panel (as I will explain below). I believe FNF have offered but been ignored. In these days of near-mania about “diversity”, including gender balance, why is it acceptable to have one man and 10 women on the Panel? Is it because the Government think that “families” are no business of men?
Before I distract you with the details, an immediate purpose of this post is to encourage you to write/email your MP to ask them to raise the matter with the Minister responsible, namely Paul Maynard, requesting that a representative from the charity Families Need Fathers Both Parents Matter Cymru (FNF-BPM Cymru) is added to the Panel. Their National Manager has prepared this statement which you can send with your letter/email.
The case for including a rep from FNF-BPM Cymru is to provide,
- Representation of the perspective of men (balancing that of Women’s Aid);
- Representation for an organisation that is a DV support service for men;
- Welsh representation on a panel looking at the operation of Family Justice in England and Wales
I believe there is no other organisation that could meet all three criteria.
Now for the current members of the Panel…but first, some background….
On 21st May 2019 the Government announced their intention to convene a “panel of experts” to “review how the family courts protect children and parents in cases of domestic abuse and other serious offences”. This is a spin-off from the consultations around the new Domestic Violence Bill, whose Parliamentary Committee has recently reported and on which I shall be blogging shortly. Some quotes establish the motivation and movers,
“The move follows responses received through the government’s domestic abuse consultation in which concerns were raised around the family courts’ response to potential harm to children and victims. In addition to calls for better protections for children, some claim that domestic abusers are using the court system to re-traumatise their victims.”
“The panel will consider how the family courts handle a range of offences including rape, child abuse, assault, sexual assault, murder and other violent crime, with the government committed to ensuring the right protections are in place for victims and their children.”
These are all serious criminal offences. Why are they not being addressed through the criminal courts? Could it be that there would be insufficient evidence to support a prosecution?
The announcement states that the panel’s deliberations “will build on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill” which “includes measures to ban abusers from directly cross-examining their victims in family courts”. No, it doesn’t. It includes measures to ban those who have been accused from questioning their accusers. The conflation of “accused” with “abuser” and “accuser” with “victim” is not careless, it is deliberate. The impetus behind convening this panel is not neutral.
For those who have not been paying attention, let me remind you of the background. In April 2013 a new Act, LASPO, came into force which withdrew legal aid from Civil court cases. However, there were exceptions, of which an allegation of domestic abuse was one. A common situation which has arisen since is a mother alleging domestic abuse who may still acquire legal aid, and hence legal representation in court, whilst the accused man will not have legal aid and will often have no legal representation in court. The alert will notice that this inverts the original purpose of legal aid: namely, to assist the impecunious in mounting a defence against an accusation. Such a man is left having to mount his own defence (a Litigant In Person) in total ignorance of court procedure. This will include, on some occasions, questioning his accuser – who else is to do it? This situation, in which the accused man is obliged to struggle unaided with his own defence, is presented in lurid newspaper headlines such as “Revealed: how family courts allow abusers to torment their victims”. The Government is no better. The tone of their announcement is much the same. They do not mention that this situation, undesirable to all parties, is of the Government’s own making due to their withdrawal of legal aid from these Civil cases. One might argue, though, that the root cause is that the Civil jurisdiction is addressing what should be handled by the criminal courts – or not at all.
This is the latest episode in a very, very long saga. Like all long-running serials, you need some knowledge of past events to make sense of the current episode. The details are legalistic but the essence is simple. The feminist lobby has been working for many decades to weaken fathers’ legal and social attachment to the family, with the aim of rendering fathers an optional accessory whom the mother can remove from the family with the minimum of difficulty or disadvantage. Accusations of abuse have proved an efficacious strategy to achieve this. Much of the skirmishes over the last five years or so have focused around the following clause in primary legislation,
“A court… is as respects each parent…to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare”
Because the interests of the child are paramount in family law, this clause is a potential barrier to achieving the feminist objective of easy removal of fathers from their children’s lives. Simply put, feminists do not believe the statement: they do not regard fathers as particularly important.
A brief reprise of recent skirmishes is in order as many of the personnel involved reappear in the new Family Justice Review Panel, as we will see.
The 2014 skirmish concerned an attempt to introduce a rebuttable presumption of shared childcare after parental separation. The above presumption that, unless the contrary is shown, involvement of a parent in the life of child will further the child’s welfare, was introduced into primary legislation in 2014. However, in a display of entrenched political power, the combined feminist lobby managed to neutralise the intention to facilitate ongoing involvement of both parents in their children’s lives via a devastating amendment. Clauses 1(2A,2B) were introduced into the Children Act 1989 by Clause 11 of the Children and Families Act 2014 and read,
(2A) A court, in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4)(a) or (7), is as respects each parent within subsection (6)(a) to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.
(2B) In subsection (2A) “involvement” means involvement of some kind, either direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child’s time.
Clause 2B destroys the initial intention of facilitating shared care. It was deliberately introduced for this purpose. I related the full story behind this 2014 amendment to the legislation in Woozling Shared Parenting. A key ingredient in the power-play was the woozle-driven Norgrove Report. Two of the key academics who endorsed the Norgrove Report appear on the new Family Justice Review Panel: Professor Liz Trinder and Professor Rosemary Hunter. Both are committed feminists. Both concurred with the report’s stance against a presumption of shared care. Professor Liz Trinder was quoted in the Norgrove Report, “I am encouraged that the Review has opted against a shared care presumption. That is entirely consistent with the research evidence on what works for children.” That statement is untrue. The research shows the opposite.
Despite its emasculation by Clause (2B), the presence of Clause (2A) in the legislation remains a thorn in the side of the feminist lobby. To neutralise it further they lever to the maximum the proviso “unless the contrary is shown”. The approach to showing “the contrary” is to magnify as much as possible the spectre of men’s potential danger to both mother and child.
The 2017 skirmish revolved around “Practice Direction 12J”. This is the guidance to judges on how to address family law cases involving child arrangements and contact orders where there is an allegation of domestic abuse. The Government’s announcement regarding the Family Justice Review Panel observes,
“Practice Direction 12J was revised in October 2017 to place greater emphasis on both the indirect harm that domestic abuse can cause to a child and parent, and the impact of non-physical forms of abusive behaviour. The Children Act also makes clear that the presumption of parental involvement will not apply where there is evidence that the involvement of that parent in the child’s life would put the child at risk of suffering harm.”
This is the levering of the proviso “unless the contrary is shown”, and there is a history to it.
The pressure to revise Practice Direction 12J came from the feminist lobby. Specifically, in January 2016, Women’s Aid published, as part of its Child First Campaign, a report entitled ‘Nineteen Child Homicides: What must change so children are put first in child contact arrangements and the family courts.’ The publication of that report was followed by a Parliamentary Hearing convened by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Domestic Violence; a Parliamentary Briefing Paper followed the hearing.
Women’s Aid’s report cherry-picked a dozen cases of men killing children after contact disputes, obtained by trawling ten years of Serious Case Reviews. I have presented the full story in 332 Child Homicides. Looking at all Serious Case Reviews presents a rather different picture in which mothers emerge as at least as culpable for child deaths as fathers, and in fact rather more so – especially single mothers. But no one in positions of influence is interested in this. Our society simply will not recognise that mothers can also be a danger to children. More importantly, though, and to quote from my own post,
“I emphasise that the review presented below is not intended to suggest that mothers in general are dangerous to their children. That would be ridiculous. The purpose of the review is to provide a balance which is totally absent in Nineteen Child Homicides. Women’s Aid is very willing to use a small number of carefully selected cases to suggest that all fathers should be considered dangerous, but I am not about to commit the same mendacious folly with the genders reversed. Indeed, after reading through hundreds of SCR Abstracts it becomes clear that these terrible cases have little or nothing to tell us about the bulk of society.”
However, the emotional impact of cases of men killing children, and sometimes their mothers, sweeps away all rational considerations. Consequently, the feminist axis had its way and Practice Direction 12J was duly revised. The man detailed to do the job is also the only man listed to take part in the new Family Justice Review Panel: Mr Justice Cobb.
Prior to the 2017 review, and consistent with the primary legislation, Practice Direction 12J contained the clause,
“The Family Court presumes that the involvement of a parent in a child’s life will further the child’s welfare, so long as the parent can be involved in a way that does not put the child or other parent at risk of suffering harm.”
Mr Justice Cobb’s first stab at amending the Practice Direction attempted to delete that clause and replace it with,
“Where the involvement of a parent in a child’s life would put the child or other parent at risk of suffering harm arising from domestic violence or abuse, the presumption in section 1(2A) of the Children Act 1989 shall not apply.”
The charity FNF-BPM Cymru, in their elicited response to the draft new Practice Direction, pointed out to the President of the Family Division that this change would constitute a change to statutory legislation and thus exceed the judiciaries powers. It was changed back. Perhaps Mr Justice Cobb did not enjoy being corrected by FNF-BPM Cymru, though he should have been grateful that such an embarrassing error was spotted. You can read here the blow-by-blow account of the changes to Practice Direction 12J which were ultimately adopted (its horribly legalistic).
Most telling are the influences upon Mr Justice Cobb in producing his first draft of the 2017 revised Practice Direction. These are explicit in his report to the President of the Family Division. They were, (i) Women’s Aid, (ii) the group “Rights of Women”, (iii) Women’s Aid’s report “19 Child Homicides”, and a similar earlier report “29 Child Homicides”, (iv) Professor Rosemary Hunter (yes, her again), and (v) Professor Marianne Hester and Dr Gillian Macdonald. All these influences are feminists espousing the male power & control theory of domestic abuse, with an all-consuming gender-political agenda.
To go back even further into history, Practice Direction 12J was first produced, in 2008, as a response to Women’s Aid’s “29 Child Homicides” report. It was revised for the first time in 2014 as a response to a report by Rosemary Hunter for the Family Justice Council. Judicial guidance on this matter has been controlled by the feminist lobby for a very long time, and the same personnel are repeatedly involved.
The Family Justice Review Panel
We have already seen that Mr Justice Cobb, Professor Liz Trinder and Professor Rosemary Hunter have previous in these matters.
The MOJ reps (Melissa Case and Nicola Hewer) we may pass over as it’s the MOJ’s Panel and hence their reps must be present. As for their bias, or otherwise, I have made no investigation.
Similar remarks apply to District Judge Katherine Suh. She is a member of the Family Procedure Rule Committee. This Committee makes rules of court that govern the practice and procedure followed in family proceedings in the High Court and family court. A rep from that body is required on the Panel as it is likely to have an impact on said rules.
The two women QCs, Dierdre Fottrell and Lorraine Cavanagh, jointly represent the Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC). The ALC is a national association of lawyers and others working in the field of children law. It has over 1,000 members, mainly solicitors and family law barristers who represent children, parents, other adult parties and local authorities. In January 2017 the ALC wrote to the Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, then Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. They wrote, “we wish to emphasise that it is not only adults, mainly women, who find themselves in the humiliating and abusive position of being cross-examined by their alleged abusers, but also the children or step-children of the parties, who may be witnesses to the alleged abuse”. They made reference to the Guardian article by Sandra Laville to which I linked earlier (Revealed: how family courts allow abusers to torment their victims). However, they also observed,
“Although this is not the primary issue, the grant of legal aid for representation at family court hearings for both accused and accuser where domestic, sexual or child abuse is alleged, will also deal with the very real problem of cases where the former partner (usually the father) is falsely accused of physical or sexual abuse by the mother, on herself and/or the children, in an attempt to frustrate the father’s contact with the children of the family.”
Their main beef is the withdrawal of legal aid, which they always opposed (well, lawyers would).
Mandy Burton, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Leicester, may be rather more empirically based than the others. She authored a book “Legal Reponses to Domestic Violence” and is working on another entitled “Domestic Abuse, Victim’s Rights and the Law”. She contributed an invited submission to the Justice Committee in reference to the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill: Stage 2, entitled “Emergency Barring Orders (EBOs) for Domestic Abuse: An Overview “. In England and Wales EBOs are called Domestic Violence Prevention Notices and Orders (DVPNs and DVPOs), and are one of the pathways through the DV Gateway. In this submission she makes reference to the Istanbul Convention and the Council of Europe, which makes me question her impartiality. Some publications are,
- ‘Specialist Domestic Violence Courts for Child Arrangement Cases: Safer Courtrooms and Safer Outcomes?’ (2018)
- Understanding the progression of serious cases through the criminal justice system’ (2012, co-author)
I am familiar with the last paper, which is very useful. It shows, in a sample of cases, that the attrition of rape cases is essentially the same as that of GBH cases.
Isabelle Trowler, is the government’s first ever Chief Social Worker for Children & Families. She was appointed to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel in June 2018, and she also sits on the ministerial-led Family Justice Board. I guess this CV makes her presence on the Panel close to obligatory.
Nicki Norman is the Acting Co-Chief Executive of Women’s Aid – ‘nuf said?