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by Melanie Phillips
5th November 2003
One man dressed in a Spiderman outfit has single-handedly been bringing chaos to central London. Since last Friday, David Chick has been perched on top of a 150 ft crane in order to publicise his protest about the way the courts treat separated fathers.
Police have erected roadblocks around the crane to prevent Mr Chick from falling onto passers-by. The result is miles of tailbacks and misery for thousands of commuters trapped helplessly in the gridlock.
Mr Chick is merely the latest estranged father to stage a public protest.
Militancy amongst fathers¹ groups is increasing. They have picketed judges houses, forced the temporary closure of one court, placed hoax bombs in others and intimidated mothers arriving for hearings. This kind of irresponsibility, harassment and threatening behaviour is totally unacceptable, and should be punished. Nevertheless, the desperation driving these men to such acts is real.
The flashpoint behind Mr Chick's protest is how judges handle the difficult issue of contact with children after divorce. When the courts award care of the children to the mother, they usually make an order that she should allow the children to have contact with their father.
But when the father tries to make such contact, he often finds the mother bars his way. She fobs off the court with a series of flaky excuses. Worse still, she may make spurious allegations of abuse.
Even if the facts behind such claims are actually examined, the proceedings are weighted towards the mother. And many blameless fathers end up losing contact with their children.
The courts don't want to jail the mothers because their children live with them. On this basis, no mother should ever be sent to prison for any crime. And anyway, why do they all have to be jailed?
Many children could be sent to live with their fathers instead. The courts think a child should be with its mother. But a mother who spitefully denies her child access to its father shows she is not fit to be in charge of that child. The judges want to avoid enraging the mother still further, which they think would be bad for the child. But being deprived of its father is bad for the child. With the courts paralysed by their belief that mothers have to be handled with kid gloves, women have been able to string them along and get away with actions wholly against their children's interests.
The singer Bob Geldof has
drawn attention to this injustice. Drawing on his own custody battle
with his late ex-wife Paula Yates, he has rightly observed that family
law is creating 'vast wells of misery, massive
No doubt such outbursts are why some senior judges recently acknowledged that with so many contact orders being flouted by mothers, the law is being brought into disrepute. As a result, in a recent case where a mother refused contact, judges did for once transfer care of the child to the father.
But this problem is far broader and deeper than flouted contact orders. The whole justice system is institutionally biased against men and marriage. It is driven by an extreme feminist agenda, which stretches from the humblest family lawyer through the politically correct Law Commission to reach all the way up to government and the senior reaches of the judiciary. How else can one explain the extraordinary proposal by the Law Commission -- which is expected to be backed by the government -- that women who commit premeditated murder of their menfolk may be charged merely with manslaughter if they have been abused?
At present, manslaughter only applies if the killing occurs in the heat of the moment. But the new argument is that if there was a history of abuse, such provocation excuses the deed even if it was carefully planned. This is rigging the law to allow women literally to get away with murder. (The same provision would apply to abused men; but since such men are seldom believed, and most men who kill do so in the heat of the moment, it is mainly women to whom this would apply).
Of course, abused women need protection. But premeditation means women have a choice not to kill. The proposal gives the signal that premeditated killing in a domestic setting is justifiable. It effectively says that the crime is the fault not of the killer but of her victim. By removing personal responsibility for murder, it represents a wholesale attack against the fundamental principle of law itself. But then, through a combination of moral cowardice and extreme feminism, family lawyers have been writing personal responsibility out of the script for decades. First, they removed the idea that behaviour mattered, so that eventually divorce law became so meaningless that fault was removed from it altogether. And now, they actually reward bad behaviour. Despite the fact that women have been becoming increasingly unfaithful and predatory, they are now mainly awarded the lion's share of divorce settlements.
Underlying it all is the judges assumption that women are generally more sinned against than sinning and that marriage is out of date -- a fact they have done their best to bring about. The leading exponent of that view and the most influential voice in family law over at least the past two decades -- is Lady Justice Hale, a hard-line feminist, an opponent of marriage (despite being twice married herself) and a champion of easier divorce and equal rights for cohabitants. Now she is to become the first female member of the Law Lords. She is without doubt exceedingly able. But her elevation epitomises the moral vacuum within our judiciary and wider establishment, which instead of holding the line for justice and social order are in thrall to the politics of the self, which makes victims of the vulnerable and leaves a trail of social and emotional devastation in its wake.
So men increasingly find they lose their homes and their children, even if their behaviour has been blameless. Their reckless public protests are inexcusable. But so, too, are the manifold injustices which are increasingly driving them over the edge. You can post your comments online just below the article.
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