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Monday, July 15, 2024
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HomeEditor's PickWhere’s the justice for fathers? Part Three

Where’s the justice for fathers? Part Three

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You can read the first two parts of this series here. 

FOR ALL the 2010 Equality Act’s great intentions, it does not protect one of the demographics most discriminated against: fathers. This is wrong. Fathers deserve equality. The Conservative government has had 14 years to address this. However, their supposedly innovative Pathfinder (family) courts do not mention equality. They merely double down on mediation and de-escalation, perversely providing courts with more excuses to bash men for ‘failing’ to resolve conflict outside court, regardless of the other side’s contributions.

In the previous parts of this series, I specified five urgent needs. First, the need to legislate for equal rights for men as parents. Second, to sanction deliberate alienation of children by one parent in respect of the other. Third, to stop using (often court proceedings-driven) separation to justify separation. Fourth, to end the involvement of social workers and teachers where there is no question of child harm. Fifth, to ease revisions to court orders.

In this final part, I (a career policy scientist) tackle the two quangos most in need of reform: the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass). The law mandates their involvement, as supposedly objective court advisers, but they’re biased against men.

Quangos, by definition, are not accountable to Parliament or even to the departments of government that fund them. Tony Blair justified them as independent of politicisation. In reality, they are unaccountable for politicising themselves.

CMS and Cafcass should be accountable to the Ministry of Justice, and the MoJ should be accountable to Parliament for their performance. To date the government has never held them to account for disproportionately pursuing fathers and exaggerating their affluence. Cafcass gets the lowest score on Trustpilot from 96 per cent of respondents, the CMS from 100 per cent

Cafcass and CMS officers advise courts yet have no necessary legal qualifications. The only qualification that family court advisers must hold is decided by yet another quango, Social Work England, which hardly has an unblemished record itself. (For example it wrongfully decertified a social worker for criticising privileges extended to transgender criminals.) 

Cafcass is the most consequential, in the sense that it prejudices court orders before CMS enforces them. In 2001, Blair combined the Family Court Welfare Service, the Guardian Ad Litem Services and the children’s divisions of the Official Solicitor’s Office to create this one monstrous advisory service. Cafcass is supposed to advise courts about the best interests of children. In practice, it damages those interests by delaying and prejudicing court cases. Delay inevitably contributes to child-father alienation. Radical feminists achieve their desired exclusion of fathers (except as payers) by dragging their feet, or losing paperwork, or shuffling personnel – which, court transcripts suggest, occur routinely. For instance, a first hearing in Bournemouth was delayed six months when Cafcass failed to find an officer. Cafcass told me that its officers take 14.5 weeks on average to complete their reporting after a court request. Cafcass blames government resourcing. Who’s to say? Nobody investigates.

Shockingly, Cafcass officers are not obliged to talk with fathers. They are obliged to talk to the child’s school, but not to inform both parents. Their confirmation bias is infamous. For instance, one officer went to a daycare location to ask a three-year-old child which parent he preferred. On the third attempt, she got the answer she wanted: mummy. On that basis Cafcass recommended against the father’s unsupervised contact

That’s before we get to the outright abuse of evidence. In one breathtaking case, a Cafcass officer reported that a school had described the father as ‘uninvolved’. The father asked to see the school’s report. The officer refused. The school refused. He filed a Freedom of Information Request, which revealed that the school had reported the opposite. Confronted with the discrepancy, the officer agreed to recuse herself. However, she had been tipped off about the father’s statement, submitted days earlier. She entered a ‘retaliation’ and petitioned for the children to be taken into care, given that the father had said to a teacher, in a parents’ meeting, that he couldn’t wait to get his hands on them at the Easter holiday, meaning he couldn’t wait to see them. The mother encouraged a safeguarding concern; the school passed it to the officer; the officer passed it to the Local Education Authority. To its credit, the court rejected the petition, but it did not hold the officer to account. Cafcass tells me that the officer did nothing wrong.

Courts have no power to punish officers. Courts can give orders to officers, but usually late and apologetically. For instance, one officer submitted her report without speaking to the father. Bournemouth ordered her to speak to the father. She changed nothing in her report. Bournemouth admonished the officer for a useless report, but did not order a new report.

Complaints about Cafcass or CMS are rebuffed by the MoJ on the ground that they are quangos. The ultimate authority for complaints is the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman – another quango! The PHSO hires from CMS and Cafcass. It rejects more than 90 per cent of complaints. And you cannot complain about PHSO either. It reports to only one committee of Parliament, to which it lies about its performance

In addition to making quangos accountable, the government needs to criminally sanction false accusations of abuse. Data from Scottish courts suggest that 70 per cent of accusations are false. The MoJ admits that almost all the men who answered a survey about family court said they were victims of false accusations (see page 18 of this report). 

The CMS encourages accusations by waiving the application fee if the applicant claims to be a victim or the parent of a victim (more than half of applicants). Legal aid is automatic. Unlike criminal courts, family courts rarely punish false accusers. This needs changing. Family courts do, however, have the discretion to sanction parents for false accusations. Government guidance should make this an expectation. Further, the government should legislate criminal sanctions. 

The Government falsely claims that Pathfinder is better at handling abuse claims. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner (set up in 2019, the brainchild of Theresa May) misleadingly asserts that ‘the core feature of the Pathfinder model is the involvement of children from the very beginning’. In fact, children are not involved from the beginning. Cafcass is, though – speaking for them and not dispassionately. Cafcass trains and triages with a model of domestic violence that assumes children and women are the victims of male abusers. 

This has no basis in fact, yet you can’t escape it. Cafcass applies the same biasedassumption to its Respect Model Duluth Model,  Improvement Programme, and Perpetrator Programme.

However one important study shows that men are more likely to experience abuse, including violence, and that violence by only the male partner was the least frequent pattern according to both male and female participants.

According to the Office for National Statistics one in three victims of domestic abuse is male, a figure that takes no account of men being 2.5 times less likely to admit being victimised and 20 times less likely to receive victim support. One example was Richard Spencer who was subject to 20 years of abuse by his wife, which nobody would believe until the video evidence came out. 

It is true that women are more likely to experience deadly violence, and so deserve special protection. Public messaging out of the MoJ, CMS and Cafcass would make you think that male-on-female abuse is out of control, yet the Ministry’s own data shows domestic abuse is rare and that almost all petitions for a domestic abuse remedy order are successful

The MoJ, CMS, and Cafcass are not evidence-based. None collects data on false accusations. In response to my freedom-of-information requests, each denied data on the gender of those accused in family court. That seems convenient to organisations that refuse to tackle false accusations. My interviewees and their court transcripts suggest that Cafcass routinely denies fathers’ claims to be victims. Cafcass officers routinely report any recriminations between ex-partners as domestic abuse by the man. And Cafcass routinely reports any father’s pleas to an alienated child itself as child abuse!

Alas, we cannot expect better from the next government. The next prime minister, unless every poll and every news report is wrong, will be Sir Keir Starmer, the man who presided over a Crown Prosecution Service that hid exculpatory evidence in order to raise rape convictions while turning a blind eye to the rape of children by gangs of privileged demographics. 

The only party with a manifesto for reform of family law is Reform UK, which is supported by the Reclaim Party. Reform UK promises equal custody, and reform of the CMS.  I will be voting Reform.

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Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas Permian Basin. He is also the author of the anti-woke satire "The Dark Side of Sunshine" (Perseublishing, 2020).

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