The Channel 4 Dispateches documentary 'Torn Apart: Family Courts Uncovered' has received 546 complaints to Ofcom since it was broadcast on 20th July 2021. It has topped the Ofcom complaints chart for the 2nd week running with 215 complaints in the week to 2nd August and 331 the previous week (their leader charts report on any broadcase with over 50 complaints in a week).
The Channel 4 news release promoting this documentary tells us that their (self-selected) survey received responses from 4,000 people - 2,776 mothers and 1,147 fathers. The responses suggested that:-
• 70% of mums and dads were unhappy with the outcome
• Half of parents considered the judge to be hostile to them
• Court proceedings averaged 18 months and in 10% of cases over 5 years
• The average cost of proceedings was £13,000 with 5% saying they spent over £100,000
[Please note that these simple averages conceal that many will have been litigants in person or qualified for legal aid (due to income levels and alleged domestic abuse), so in reality those who had to pay for themselves spent far more. We carried out a survey a few years ago and the average figure for those using lawyers was almost double the figure of the C4 Dispatches respondents.]
What these facts tells us is that there is a public heath emergency that demands urgent attention.
1. Family courts are not fit-for purpose.
2. The adversarial nature of family courts fuels conflict on the embers of family relationships when emotions are already heightened.
3. Family courts provide no actual support to parents or children.
4. Family courts are almost always the wrong place to resolve private family separation disputes.
5. In most cases what is needed is education and support for separating parents and early interventions to keep them out of court whenever possible.
6. Where court is unavoidable, the current system must be adapted to be on a child-appropriate timescale - weeks not months and years, and again to consider referring parents back to appropriate support services.
7. Failure to respond in a timely way contributes to harm experienced by children.
Many of these points were needlessly lost. With a little more care in case selection and choice of ‘experts’, balanced representation of both mothers and fathers and acknowledgment of the psychological harm to children that of inapropriate post-separation parenting and and the documentary could have galvanised the majority of litigants and lawyers around these and delivered a well-supported case to the Government for reform. It was a missed opportunity. important issues instead that we could have agreed upon. Instead, as social media comments and many complaints to Ofcom (the broadcast regulater) have shown.
Note: The job of the communications regulator Ofcom is help to make sure people across the UK are satisfied with what they see and hear on TV and radio, and that programmes reflect the audiences they serve. Anyone who feelst that this has not happened may contact them directly.
6th August 2021
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