UK Family Law Reform

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Children pulled from their mother on Christmas Day

It's extraordinary that two boys have been put into the care of a father who left 11 years ago by a High Court judge, Mrs Justice Laura Harris

Ever more baffling become the rulings of some of our family court judges. At 7.45 on Christmas morning, two boys, aged 14 and 11, were lying in bed at home, eager to come downstairs to open their presents around the tree. There was a knock at the door and four police officers entered, to carry the boys downstairs, struggling and protesting, to drive them miles away into the care of a father who walked out on them 11 years ago, two weeks after the younger boy was born.

This extraordinary action, it turned out, was the idea of a High Court judge, Mrs Justice Laura Harris. Although the boys’ mother divorced her husband some years back, she had never objected to them seeing their father, when he applied for contact with them. The objections, she says, all came from the boys themselves. But the judge refused to believe this, insisting that they could only not want to see their father because their mother must have coached them. Judge Harris therefore ruled not only that the boys should see their father, but also that they must now live with him – removing them from the mother who had brought them up, from schools where they were doing well, and from all their friends.

The older boy then managed to contact his mother, to say that his brother had tried to run away because of a violent incident with his father. A further incident followed in the street, observed by bystanders, which resulted in the police being called, but taking no action. The alarmed mother called the boys’ new school, which also took no action. She then asked for help from social services, which now plans to “assess” all the members of the family. Meanwhile, the judge last week ruled that the boys can only be allowed occasional brief supervised meetings in a grim council “contact centre”, with the loving mother they long to return to, and who has never harmed them in any way. She and her lawyers immediately lodged an appeal.

Why is it that, in so many cases I have followed in recent years where complaints of abuse are made against a father, judges seem so keen to remove children from the mother who has brought them up, to hand them over to the care of the father? This has become such a common pattern that, if only the new head of the Family Division, Lord Justice Munby, can succeed in his admirable campaign to expose the workings of our family courts to “the glare of publicity”, it may come to be recognised as one of the more disturbing features of how this system seems too often to have gone off the rails.

What is and who is behind the Family Law Reform Group?

The Family Law Reform Group, as the name suggests, is a group specifically set up to campaign for UK family law reform. It is the brainchild of David Mortimer. David, a father who has been through the family court process and suffered many of the pitfalls and injustices of an outmoded legal system, has long campaigned for changes in family law to achieve justice for all, and in the hope and expectation that his sons’ sons and other fathers’ sons will never have to endure what he or they have done. That is the ethos of this Group – to build a better future for our children.

I became acquainted with David a number of years ago through a mutual contact while researching for the first edition of my legal handbook Fathers Matter. During this time I have observed his determination, perseverance and tenacity in bringing difficult and highly controversial family issues to the foreground, even though on numerous occasions it has brought him into conflict with those in a position of authority. Although David instigated the formation of the Group, he makes it very clear that he is just one part of it and the Group depends on the input of all its members to bring about radical reform which is its ultimate goal . The Group also provides support and information to anyone who needs it.

Celia Conrad, former specialist family lawyer and author of Fathers Matter.