10th July 2011
Dear Mr Cameron,
My name is Matt O’Connor. I am the father of three boys aged 5, 13 and 15 and the founding father of Fathers 4 Justice.
I am appealing to you not as a campaigner, but as a father. This is a rather lengthy but ultimately necessary tome, given the gravity of the situation I find myself in. I hope you will find the time to both read and digest its contents.
Firstly, I hope I do not cause you or your family any disruption or inconvenience by my protest. It is not my intention to intimidate or threaten you or your family. In fact, the only threat I represent is to my own health. I will begin by explaining why I am here, outside your Oxfordshire home. The idea behind this protest is highly personal, rooted as it is in my Irish heritage and the tradition of Troscadh or Cealachan. This tradition was detailed in traditional civic codes, and had specific rules by which it could be used. Fasting was often used as a method of highlighting an injustice and was traditionally carried out on the doorstep of the home of the person responsible. It is carried out to graphically test the resolve of the protestor whilst simultaneously attesting to their depth of commitment.
This protest is a direct result of your party’s failure to honour written commitments made to Fathers 4 Justice in April 2010 and the denigrating remarks you made about fathers on Fathers Day this year. When you set these two events against the backdrop of an unfolding crisis in family law and the failure of Parliament to act, it created a dynamic that demanded a dramatic and serious response. One that might act as an accelerant to highlight the grotesque injustices perpetrated on children and families every single day in our secret family courts.
I understand that many people will endeavour to try to write me off as a militant or extremist. That simply wouldn’t be born out by the facts. As well as being a father, I am a businessman, entrepreneur, author and activist. I employ people. I build exciting groundbreaking brands. I love my work. I am your ‘Big’ Society in action. Further, I cannot be written off either as somebody who is not seeing their children or campaigning for their ‘own’ rights. Fathers 4 Justice is an intensely personal campaign born in the fires of personal experience. It was not created to benefit me as I was seeing my children before I started the campaign.
Rather, it was created because I did not want them to be condemned to share the same fate as me when they became fathers. I want them to be respected and valued as fathers with the same rights as their future partners. The right to be a loving parent to their children. It should be a simple ask. But the resistance to the idea of fathers being treated equally to mothers has been as fiercely contested as the women’s suffrage movement and the abolition of slavery. I have to question why there is this degree of resistance to simple, basic human rights. Today, I demand the right to be a father and for that right to be established for my three boys and for all parents and grandparents to have the right to see their children and grandchildren, established in law, which your government currently denies them. Nothing but nothing matters more to me than my family and the welfare of children and families in this country.
As has been said before, the true marker of any society is how we treat our most vulnerable and how our children are treated in secret family courts will be exposed one day as the biggest child abuse scandal this country has ever witnessed. And like all child abuse, it is taking place behind closed doors. (The evidence of the physical and emotional abuse perpetrated on children in these courts is included in comprehensive submissions to government.) On Friday, I met with Sir George Young, the leader of the House of Commons along with my wife Nadine. I think it is fair to say we didn’t care much for each other’s views, nor did he offer us any assistance with our struggle. In fact he berated me, “How could you leave your children without a father?” he asked when discussing the hunger strike. “How could you leave an entire generation of children without fathers?” I responded. Nobody cared about my role as a father when I had been excluded from my children. What had changed? Nothing.
I pointed out to him the tragic irony of a government demonising fathers at home whilst sending them off to fight a war in a foreign land on behalf of a country that doesn’t even afford them the right to be a father. The sacrifices they are making are nothing compared to mine, but for what purpose I asked? “At least I know what I am fighting for”, I said. To put this issue in context, my family have nearly been destroyed by the family justice system. Not once, but twice during the last 10 years. When it comes to concerns about my family’s welfare, nobody was concerned then. Both myself and my wife have been force-fed through one of the most brutal and secretive regimes in the world; our secret family courts. Family members have been afflicted with depression, acute stress and anxiety. The emotional, psychological and financial cost has been apocalyptic and should have finished us. Our children are lucky to have escaped relatively (and hopefully) unscathed through the efforts of their parents who acted as human shields, to spare them as much as we could from the conflict being waged on our family. There was no counterfeit sincerity on offer then from patronising MP’s.
The last decade has been horrific. Not only have I had to contend with the ongoing trauma being caused to my own family, I have tried to help as many other parents, mostly fathers, as I can as has Nadine. Tragically, many fathers I know have succumbed to suicide when faced with what I describe as a ‘living bereavement’ – the unimaginable loss of a child you know is alive, but will probably never see again. Others live in a Siberia of the broken, exiled and excommunicated from their children and left devastated by the experiences involving the courts and the CSA.
For my efforts to stand up for children and families, I was threatened with contempt of court for doing interviews with my children in 2002 by the then Lord Chancellor’s Department despite my belief that as a parent I have a fundamental right to freedom of speech, to tell my story and that of others, to bear witness and give testimony if for no other reason than to inform society of what happens behind closed doors. I have also been rewarded with the label of ‘terrorist’ by Scotland Yard. I have been visited in Hampshire by Counter Terrorism Command. I have been harassed by Counter Terrorism Command. I have been threatened with being shot by Scotland Yard. I have been described as a ‘greater threat than Al-Qaeda’ by officers at Scotland Yard on two separate occasions in front of witnesses. They tell me they use ‘information resources’ and ‘stakeholders’ to gather intelligence about me even when I am engaging in my work as an entrepreneur.
Despite these threats, both myself, my wife and a heroic contingent of fine parents from many organisations, continue to use our best endeavours to make justice a reality for children and families regardless of the personal cost to themselves. But for me, the political is personal. I was born and raised in the Labour Party, a party forged in the fires of civil disobedience. I was taught to stand up for our rights in the tradition of our forefathers. The key tenet of those was freedom of speech, our right to open justice and a fair hearing by a jury of 12 men and women good and true. None of these principles apply in the family justice system where a dystopian level of secrecy is applied. Secrecy is the enemy of justice. Secrecy protects the status quo. It is the reason nothing has changed.
But this monstrous, tyrannical and secretive regime is worse than anything in Iran, Libya or North Korea and it is my contention based on 10 years experience and the thousands of testimonies presented to me in that time, that it poses a serious risk to the welfare of every family in the UK. The secret family courts are operating beyond scrutiny, beyond accountability, beyond transparency and beyond the law because of the wholesale failure of politicians to deal with what has become a political and religious taboo. The modus operandi of these courts breach our fundamental human rights:
“Equal and inalienable rights…They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during and at it’s dissolution.” Article 16.1 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
“The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” Article 16.3 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” Article 8.1 European Convention of Human Rights.
The secret family courts undermine deep-seated principles of common law and open justice by holding hearings in secret and threatening parents with criminal contempt in the event they speak out about their cases. Fair and open justice belongs to the people, not the judiciary or the government. Where family disputes should be resolved in a conciliatory basis, the courts are adversarial – if divorce is like a burning house, going into the system is like emptying a plane-load of napalm onto the situation; to prove who the best parent is, you have to prove who is the worst. Courts prolong cases, delays establish new and damaging status-quos. Cases can last years. As a result, the system fundamentally abusive to children and their parents. Every day these courts remove 200 children from a parent, and wreak devastation on thousands families. They have been instrumental in creating a climate that fathers (mostly) have no expectation that they have a right to see their children after separation and this is borne out in the recent ONS figures which show that 1 in 3 children now live in single parent homes.
The courts make orders for ‘contact’ that are akin to terrorist ‘control orders’, yet 50% of these orders are broken with impunity. It makes a mockery of the law. Yet more menacingly, the courts operate under an omnipresent cloak of secrecy that the judiciary claim exists to protect the best’s interest of the children it deals with. The only interests it truly serves are self-interests; the interests of a family law industry predicated on conflict, that mercilessly preys on the misery and suffering of thousands of separating parents and their children for financial gain. This code of silence, or ‘Omerta’, only serves to protect the courts from scrutiny and transparency. The authority that one judge has in secret is chilling. They are unelected, unaccountable and unsackable.
Further the judiciary and organisations like NYAS and CAFCASS, perpetuate the fraudulent claim that they are acting in ‘the child’s best interests’ whilst keeping no records on the outcomes for children. Courts of law are supposed to rely on evidence. These courts use no empirical evidence to substantiate this myth. In effect they are acting blind. This is the greatest cover up in the history of British Justice, propped up by the greatest deceit in British Justice: ‘the child’s best interests principle’. The evidence we have presented to your government, which has been ignored, is a vital testimony to the experience of hundreds of thousands of children and parents trapped by the Devil’s Labyrinth that is the family justice system. No matter how extraordinary these facts may appear, this is our truth and it is the direct result of the perversion of the course of one natural justice that has existed for thousands of years: an inalienable right to the society of your children.
If this was not enough, both the courts and the government have systematically tried to oppress parents. They try to suffocate public criticism of the courts by threatening contempt of court to prevent our speaking out, bringing spurious injunctions or criminalising us for raising this as a matter of public interest. This is indicative of a dying system that is now on par with the old Star Chamber. In the UK, terrorists have greater rights than parents – at least they are afforded the right to have their case heard in an open court of law. With regard to the tyranny of these courts, the depths to which the judiciary and establishment will scrape knows no bounds and mirrors the depravity being exposed right across the establishment today.
There is a corrosive prejudice against fathers that infects most judgements being made in these secret courts. Judges not only come face to face with protesting fathers from Fathers 4 Justice on a daily basis (who are actively seeking the wholesale removal of the Family Division), but are then allowed to rule on their cases, in secret, using unchecked power. How is it possible for those of us campaigning for their removal, to receive justice at their hands? How has this foul, corrupt system, rife with inequality being allowed to prevail? This is a prejudiced judiciary whose views have become more ingrained as our campaign has endured. In many, many cases, they create elaborately scripted hearings in an effort to maintain the pretence of justice, while having predetermined the outcome. These hearings have more in common with the German Schauprozess, than any notion of justice. Any attempt to suppress the truth through the threat of injunctions and penal notices ‘in the child’s best interests’ whilst suffocating the very voice of the children they purport to represent, is a matter of public interest. The secrecy the judiciary, NYAS and CAFCASS crave, serves only to protect themselves, not the child.
It is unthinkable that in a modern, progressive democracy this system of justice is allowed to prevail and it must be reformed with the utmost urgency.
Child support and the defamation of dads
There is a war on fathers in this country – an insidious and ideologically driven move to demonise and denigrate fathers and you have contributed to this by making the most appalling, ignorant and offensive statements about fathers. If those comments had been made about black people, women or any other minority group, it would have caused outrage. But so conditioned have we become to this acceptable discrimination that it has become the default position of virtually every politician. This is bigotry and prejudice at it’s most obscene. The demonising of fathers is at the extreme end of the same spectrum of discrimination that said women couldn’t be trusted with the vote and that MLK’s freedom movement was infected by Communism.
A nation of first-rate fathers are being removed from the family by the state on an unprecedented scale. We are stripped of our role, stripped of our right to family life, stripped of our dignity and then trashed as ‘deadbeats’ for cynical political advantage. This is not some Orwellian prediction or the rant of ‘angry men’. It is a fact borne out by every single piece of evidence available. Fathers are being removed legally in the family courts, biologically through scientific advances and by design in the Human Tissue and Embryology Act. Fathers are excluded. They are left off birth certificates. They are denied parental responsibility. They are vilified in the media and by politicians for political ends. They don’t get housing benefit and can’t afford homes for their children. They have no legal rights. Robbing fathers of their children and denying them the opportunity to reconnect with their families via the courts causes fathers to disconnect from society.
Divorced and disenfranchised men lose their integration with society. They lose their respect for authority and for government. They are angry and resentful. They earn less and pay less tax. They are more likely to hide earnings to evade paying child support. Government severely underestimates the de-socialising effect on men of taking their children and denying them proper recourse in the courts. Your statements about fathers child support are fundamentally and empirically wrong and are rooted in stereotype and prejudice, not reality. Let me explain. The Conservative Party’s rhetoric on child support hasn’t changed since 1990 when 31% of children were born to unmarried mothers; up from 10% in 1970. It’s now 50%.
The evidence (which all MP’s ignore) is that non-resident fathers’ ability to pay is grossly overestimated. Most fathers accept their responsibilities and there is no need to enforce them. Most fathers pay what they can. 30% of fathers don’t pay according to the CSA, however only 9% of non-payers (2.7% of all fathers) have a clear capacity to pay.* More draconian enforcement would NOT bring in more money. Some research indicates the cost to the taxpayer exceeds £2.50 for every £1.00 of child support collected. * Bradshaw, J., Non-Resident Fathers in Britain, Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Population and Household Change Research Programme, University of York 1998.
Fathers are three times more likely to pay if arrangements are made privately. If they remain involved in their children’s lives through joint legal custody. If they are employed. If their children live nearby. The government has failed to learn from this that there MUST be obvious connections with court-ordered contact (as your pre-Election commitments recognised). As we have already identified, there are lots of reasons fathers are not with their children, not least that mothers won’t let them. There is a simple yet unacknowledged truth at play here; Women don’t need men. Not as husbands or partners, nor as bread-winners, nor even as fathers to their children.
And why should they when there is a benefits system that rewards single mothers who don’t let the father of their children live under the same roof? As a result fathers do not see their children – a state of affairs the government happily accepts – thus creating a perverse reality where everyone is seeing somebody else’s children, apart from their own. Historically mothers and fathers were intertwined emotionally and financially, now with the state acting as a surrogate father, this secondary tie no longer exists. However, your message conveniently ignores these basic facts and instead condemns boys to be brought up without the love and support of their fathers and to share the same fate as their fathers. What are teenage boys supposed to think when you tell them ‘you have no right to see your children, but we demand you pay for them?’ Mothers marry the state which has replaced the father. Kids, denied the love and support of one parent are increasingly making families on the street, with children having children.
The role of a father is essential for ALL children. Boys are being raised and taught by women without a single male influence in their lives. Girls grow up without a father and their first experience of a man is a sexual one. Indulged by mothers seeking to over-compensate for the absence of a father we are creating an ‘entitled generation’. A generation who have become hooked on the addictive notion that they too will be entitled to create fatherless families whilst the state as acts as the surrogate father, provider of benefits and cash cow. The legacy we have left behind – a generation of increasingly dysfunctional children – is routinely condemned. We medicate and imprison them, provide more abortion, allow more pregnancy and blame the parents when gang culture explodes on our streets amongst a fatherless generation of boys.
The courts fill with the criminal sons of fathers who fifteen years earlier, had been denied access to their children in those same courts. It is a perpetual cycle of condemnation. We reap what we sow. Is this what you mean by the ‘Big’ Society? So, contrary to your reported remarks on Fathers Day, the truth is fathers are battling against all odds to see their children through the family justice system – a fact you are fully aware of, but choose not to acknowledge and that is shameful. It would be unthinkable for you to attack mothers on Mothers Day for seeking to deny father’s access to their children, yet they do so with the financial support of the state and the compliance of the family justice system that systematically fail to enforce court orders.
However, as we know, the largest constituency of floating voters is single mothers. I say this not to apportion blame (apart from on the democratic and legal institutions responsible) as many, many mothers and women support fathers and hold us together through the most difficult of times, but to demonstrate how the pursuit of power corrupts our morality. The reality is that under this Conservative led coalition, fathers can abandon their children tomorrow, provided they pay. Current Child Support even legislates for discrimination, describing the mother as the ‘parent with care’, and the father absent. Even fathers with shared residence not only receive NO benefits from the state, but are still forced to pay child support for children they already raise. It is a tax based on gender discrimination. Many fathers feel their role has been reduced to that of sperm bank and cashpoint.
Surely Mr Cameron, child support should mean emotional and financial support? I would ask you to consider this. The imprint of your denigrating comments about fathers – made repeatedly over the years – are so toxic, the imprint on young boys so enduring, it may be impossible to reverse. Because when you think about who the next father is, it is young boys and men, growing up under a Prime Minister who makes comments that fundamentally devalues their future role as fathers. Until we have a bill of rights for the family, underpinned with rights and responsibilities, that recognises fathers as equals to mothers, the child support system is doomed to failure at massive social, economic and political cost. Until we change the lexicon of child support and free ourselves from outdated and obscene prejudices, will be begin to create a fair, just and equitable system of family law for the 21st century. One based on reconciliation and transparency, not conflict and secrecy.
The Family Justice Review
Sir George Young attempted to use the review as a ‘get out of jail’ card, asking me to wait until it had reported. However, your commitments to us last year were explicit and in writing. You stated, ‘It is our plan to have a more genuine and wider consultation into Family Law than that currently planned by the Government.’ Set aside the fact that the position of the Conservative party was close to ours at the time, that we agreed on key principles moving forward and that we negotiated with you in good faith, it is an inescapable fact that your party had no faith in the Labour instigated review and viewed its remit as inadequate. Let me remind you why.
Firstly, as you had recognised, the review is a sham. You do not need a report to tell you when your house is on fire and the crisis in family law (and in turn family breakdown) is a national emergency that needs dealing with as a crisis it is, not as a political football to be kicked into the long grass as successive governments have done. Just as turkeys won’t vote for Christmas, so butchers won’t vote for vegetarianism and that principle can be applied here. The configuration of the panel is based on the incestuous relationship between the judiciary, lobbyists and an ideologically driven industry built on conflict and the predatory nature of how family law, operates and derives its income. The panel members are representative of the family justice establishment, with experience chiefly of public law and little or no experience of private law. There is no representation from parents’ groups or from children. Parents and children can have no confidence in the panel’s findings.
The panel took insufficient evidence from parenting groups – F4J was the only independent parenting group (with no vested financial interest in the family justice system) the panel met with. We made a 1,000 page submission outlining a visionary set of reforms based of reconciliation, not conflict and framed against a backdrop of parental rights AND responsibilities that would save the taxpayer millions in terms of direct savings and billions in terms of indirect costs to society as a whole. But our worst fears were realised when it become clear almost as soon as we engaged with the review, that our voice had been suffocated before we had uttered a single word. The moving testimonies of the children and families we submitted have been treated with utter disdain.
The fundamental failure of the Family Justice Review is that it has missed the point of why it was commissioned. The family justice system is failing children and their families on an catastrophic scale, and is also arguably the single most influential institution contributing to the epidemic of family breakdown and fatherlessness. The Review does not address the impact of the family justice system on the individual and on the family. It drives divorce, it prevents separated fathers from playing a full role in their children’s lives and it takes children away from their parents, reallocating them to other couples who have state approval. Having arrogated parental authority to itself, it then proceeds to wield that immense power in the most incompetent and haphazard way. The remit of the review was grossly deficient on the following counts:
- To halt the rapid rise in case volume and reduce pressure on the system.
- To save 23% from budget.
- No challenge to established principles, e.g. welfare principle, despite evidence it isn’t working.
- No consideration of legislation – this is responsibility of Law Commission but they are not currently considering family law.
- Focus on “protecting vulnerable from abuse”, i.e. public law led, with a presumption that contact with fathers is inherently dangerous.
- Based on procedural, not substantive reform.
The initial conclusions of the review are so spectacularly deficient and frankly deranged, they bear no relation whatsoever to the reality on the ground. As David Norgrove said to me when describing his visit to a family court, ‘The judge seemed to be very much on top of the issues’, to which I responded that his presence there no doubt led to the judge performing to a higher standard than he might when operating without the disinfectant of sunlight and scrutiny. If ever there was an argument for scrutiny and accountability, he rather proved the point. It is this naïveté and ignorance which has fatally flawed the reviews credibility, as events will demonstrate. The review is content, somehow, for the status quo to remain.
They have rejected transparency. They have rejected equality. Astonishingly they argue AGAINST it, ‘No legislation should be introduced that creates or risks creating the perception that there is an assumed parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents’. The argument against this is the usual one that adding a presumption of this sort would contradict the paramountcy principle, but there seems to be more to it than that – a sort of primal fear of suggesting that parents be treated equally. In an Alice in Wonderland statement it even states there is no bias. If that is so, please explain why 94% of residencies are awarded to mothers? Neither does the panel use the language of outrage or urgency.
Instead it uses the hushed, reassuring tones of language spoken with the ears of vested interests in mind. The lexicon of family law remains reassuringly the same for those who work within it. It has excluded parents from the panel as the system excludes parents from the process and it’s vision is filtered through the distorted prism of public law where decisions are made on behalf of children by politicised and ideologically driven organisations. The key findings are:
- No proposals regarding keeping records on the outcomes for children to prove the courts act in the ‘child’s best interests.’
- Improved management and administration through new Family Justice Service take precedence over promoting reconciliation. Efficiently administered injustice is still injustice.
- No representation of parents in new Family Justice Service.
- Service to be led by Chief Executive who must “command respect among Ministers, judges, lawyers, local authority managers and social workers, as well as the Service’s own staff,” but not among those parents and children who must use the system.
- Solutions aimed towards benefiting practitioners, not children and families.
- Panel does not face up to problems in system. Assumes problems within the system are the fault of parents.
- Lack of public confidence in system not addressed.
- Panel disproportionately comprised of members from child protection background sees role of family justice system purely in terms of protecting children from parental harm.
- Private law viewed through the distorted prism of public law.
- No understanding of how parents end up in private law disputes or how cases progress.
- Report is dismissive of most complaints made of system by parents’ groups:
- Secrecy: formed part of remit, but panel did not take evidence on this issue and reject it as a matter for concern;
- Report refutes belief that courts exacerbate conflict – despite evidence to the contrary.
- Panel is dismissive of claims of gender bias – suggests that solicitors’ advice based on “court norms and typical case outcomes”;
- Fails to address issue that the courts are not protecting family relationships and that children are losing contact with fathers at appalling rate;
- Report fails to grapple with failure of system to record outcomes – this fatally undermines any claim that system operates in best interest of children;
- Report rejects demands for a rebuttable presumption of shared residence. Reasoning is relegated to an annex – justification uses very selective reference to academic research
- Panel rejects all forms of enforcement – shows profound ignorance of reality of breached orders and false allegations.
- Panel rejects “all issues” mediation, combining financial and child-related agreements – despite substantial evidence it works best.
- Panel rejects linking of maintenance and contact – but proposes withholding maintenance to enforce contact, in accordance with Conservatives’ pre-Election commitment. Reveals muddled thinking.
- No recognition that rapidly rising pressure on system is caused by increasing family breakdown. No proposals to tackle that crisis or understanding that system contributes to it.
- No proposals to reduce children’s and fathers’ misery caused by obstructed contact.
- No proposals to prevent children losing all contact with their parents over time.
- Issue of CAFCASS not to be considered until Full Report published – remarkable, given involvement in most public and private law decisions.
- Treats children in isolation – not as members of a family – this narrow focus fragments the family.
- Subsuming CAFCASS into Family Justice Service will not improve matters unless it is acknowledged how and why CAFCASS has failed.
- Back-slapping fellow workers in system is offensive given huge suffering the system inflicts on children and their families – families and children are failed by system.
- Sir Paul Coleridge, ‘Does family Law Shape Society or Vice Versa?’, talk presented to Care charity, Westminster, 10th May 2011:
“It is concerned with money saving procedures not principles.”
- 28. “The law in this field is in desperate need of comprehensive, root and branch overhaul after prospective, i.e. forward looking, review of family policy by a non political grouping. It should not be left only to the courts to invent and fashion by retrospective review in the light of the mores apparently garnered from their own experience and the media.”
The Coalition’s reliance on this review is either misplaced or the review has been used as an opportunity to avoid grasping the nettle of family breakdown. It will not recommend the changes necessary to reform family law. The whole exercise has been a cynical and shameful waste of 18 months; a calculated delay during which another 250,000 children will have passed through the courts to have their aspirations and potential destroyed.
Suffer the little children: what price our family?
To illustrate some of the points, I wanted to include a few, key salient facts:
- We have the highest rate of young offending Western Europe
- We love our children so much we lock up more of them than any other country in Europe.
- We have the highest rate of teen pregnancies in Western Europe.
- In a UNICEF report in 2007, Britain came BOTTOM of a league for child well-being across 21 industrialised countries.
- 1 in 3 children lives without their father. (ONS)
- 1 in 3 children lose contact with their father permanently. (CSJ)
- 50% of children go through trauma of seeing parents divorce by 16. (CSJ)
- 50% of children born out of marriage.
- Child in single parent family 75% more likely to struggle at school, 70% more likely to become addicted to drugs, 70% more likely to develop a drink problem, 35% more likely to be unemployed
- Court numbers risen by 14% year on year.
- 50% of all children lose contact with a parent before they are 16
- CSA costs taxpayers £2.50 to collect every £1 of child support
- CSA cost taxpayer £200 million in 2006 Henshaw report – NOW £460 Million.
- Family Justice System cost £435 in 2003/4 – NOW £800 Million.
- Direct Costs of family breakdown £37 Billion. IDS
- Indirect costs of family breakdown £100 Billion. IDS
- Couples who remain together until kids 16, 97% are married
To me Mr Cameron, the family justice system is a perversion of the course of natural justice. It makes a fool of our idea of justice. It is a cruel parody of justice; an elected, unaccountable and unsackable judiciary wield terrifying power in secret, devoid of the necessary checks and balances to ensure justice is done and is seen to be done. The courts, abandoned by politicians who – as Ian Duncan-Smith said to me personally a few years ago – know that advocating family law reform in Westminster is political suicide, operate under a sinister and menacing cloak of omnipresent secrecy, threatening any parent who dare speak out. It is a national disgrace. The failure of our elected democracy to fulfil its responsibilities to children and families has led to unprecedented abuses of power and of children and families.
But where parliament can turn a blind eye, I cannot. This is a cynical, wilful betrayal. A betrayal of families. A betrayal of fathers. A betrayal of children who we have been repeatedly failed time and time again, whether it is Baby P or those caught in the destructive tractor beam of the family courts. It is an appalling, almost Dickensian legacy. This betrayal is not just by our political elite, but by the church and others in our establishment who have failed to meet the highest standards of public office expected of them when confronting a crisis like that in our family justice system and in our wider society.
Nobody else might care for these families or children. But we do.
My 12 requests are as follows:
- A full retraction of the Prime Ministers Fathers Day Statement.
- New statement made recognising the most painful cut of all is that of fathers from their children and that tens of thousands of fathers are denied access to their children in this country by our secret family courts despite having legally binding court orders to see them.
- To publicly support those fathers struggling to see their children and recognise the catastrophic damage done to society by mass fatherlessness and the fact that 1 in 3 children is now fatherless.
- The Prime Minister honours his explicit, written, pre-election commitments to Fathers 4 Justice with regard to family law reform with the utmost urgency.
- Give ALL parents AND grandparents a right in law to see their children and grandchildren which the Conservative led coalition currently denies them.
- Sets up an immediate independent public enquiry into the Secret Family Courts chaired by Sir Bob Geldof and the scrapping of the existing and discredited Family Justice review panel.
- That the enquiry considers ALL areas of family law including the retirement of the current Family Division of the Judiciary and the creation of an open, transparent and accountable system of family justice based on reconciliation not conflict and secrecy.
- Sets up a ‘truth and reconciliation’ commission to investigate serious allegations of child abuse by the system, the failure to keep records on the outcomes for children, the use of violence on children authorised by Judges, Cafcass and NYAS to make them comply with court orders and the cover up of serious allegations of child abuse by professionals working within family law.
- Introduce the principle of ‘equal parenting’ and mandatory mediation together so that both parents are treated equally in the eyes of the law and establish contact denial as a criminal offence as serious as non-payment of child support.
- Recognition that the demonisation and denigration of fathers in society is profoundly damaging to young boys, causes serious emotional harm to them and is diametrically opposite to his ‘Big Society’ idea.
- Recognition that fathers are not simply cashpoints and that child support should mean emotional and financial support, intertwining rights with responsibilities.
- Support marriage through the tax system, not by words, but by genuine tax reforms so that the system does not encourage divorce and separation as it currently does and where many couples are £600 a month better off living apart than together and pay a third more tax than other European countries.
Let us remember that I live under a government that rejects my role as a father. I still have NO right in law to see my children and I am therefore a non-entity. I have refused to sign my census form because if the state doesn’t recognise me as a father, it doesn’t recognise me at all. It is against this backdrop that I am compelled to act because there can be no peace when there is no justice. I may be called irresponsible, but that is nothing compared to the irresponsibility of those charged with a duty of care of children and families.
My fast today is dictated by duty to the highest cause, our country, our children and our families. Mr Cameron, you wanted fathers to commit and I am committing. I am committing my life, here, now, to the cause of children and families. This is my megaphone to try and raise a deaf world, a world where the most painful cuts of all are not those to public services, but the severing of children from their fathers. I respectfully ask you to give consideration to our goals which I believe are for the benefit of children, families and society as a whole.
I do not want live in a country of inequality, where my three boys are condemned to share my same fate on the basis of their gender. Equally, I do not want to die.
I am sure Mr Cameron, if someone were to take your child from you, you would do anything in your power – maybe even physical violence – to protect them from harm because we both love our children. As a father, and as a campaigner, I ask you, what would you have me do? We have established that almost everyone accepts our country is experiencing an unprecedented social crisis driven by relationship breakdown. We have established our court system is secretive and fundamentally abusive, yet still prevails. We have established our politicians have failed in their duty of care to our children by treating this subject as taboo, then breaking cast iron written promises made not on our behalf, but on our children’s at the last election. My actions have to create the necessary crisis where the establishment is forced head on to confront this issue, to dramatise the issue on the national stage. One has a moral responsibility to break unjust laws where necessary and highlight injustice as I do here today. As St Augustine said, ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’
I act for our children first, justice second and our country third and I act with the fierce urgency of now. My hunger is not for food, but for justice. I don’t want you to help me. I want you to help the children. They deserve better.
Matt O’Connor, Father and Founder of Fathers 4 Justice
“If there be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” Thomas Paine, Rights of Man