I RECENTLY got up-close-and-personal with the British Family Courts system—and witnessed, first-hand, its current farcical state of disrepair.
How so, you may ask? Well, where to begin?
Crucially—and most importantly—there’s no continuity.
In your average criminal court the same judge presides and the same jury is appointed—seeing the trial or hearing through to conclusion. In the family court it’s a very different set-up… and one that clearly doesn’t work!
I can only speak from personal experience, but I have no doubts our case wasn’t a ‘one-off’.
There were three hearings in total—the first and third having the same judge, the second a different one.
That first judge appeared disinterested, impatient and unconcerned with any safety issues. It was the clerk of the court who advised the judge there was a safety issue which needed investigating, and the judge reluctantly agreed.
This would be carried out by CAFCAS (the Children and Family Court Advisory & Support Service) who, as I understand, are responsible for the safety and well-being of children in a relationship breakdown scenario.
Sadly it was only the second judge who took seriously the reasons our case had been brought before the family court.
However, at that second hearing, the judge and clerk of the court had to apologize as CAFCAS hadn’t been updated following the first hearing—and, as a result, no further investigations had been made. This was hastily reorganised in time for round three; but it was obvious it had been rushed through, as the relevant interviews were done over the phone. Certainly not ideal.
The experience has left me feeling extremely concerned for people and families going through these courts—and having to endure all this additional stress. Vulnerable people in tough, tricky situations—and without the right support or financial backing—are often, it seems, left to fend for themselves and fight their own corner.
At such a crucial and seminal time in the life of any family, should they not have the right—and is it not a basic human right—to expect a high level of professionalism?
Where there is acrimony between couples—and an amicable solution seems unlikely—what can be achieved by dragging the whole issue through a court system which seems, quite frankly, to be in a complete state of chaos itself?
The officials are unhelpful when you query anything you don’t understand. You’re also required to arrive at the court an hour before the hearing’s scheduled start-time, when there’s no obvious reason to do so. You’re then left waiting that whole hour—and longer. Why? Because the judge has to acquaint him or herself with the details of the case via the submitted papers before the hearing—when surely this should have been done in advance.
With this superficial knowledge, the judge is expected to come to a decision about a family they don’t know—or a situation about which they have minimal knowledge.
From my perspective, it’s an absolute shambles. The left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing. And the poor families are left to suck up this added stress.
Separate waiting areas are offered to individuals in the appointment letter—but only if available. And for disputing couples who, for whatever reason, have no choice but to resort to the courts for resolution, being forced to sit-and-wait in the same room creates an uncomfortable atmosphere in an already tense environment.
Surely, in the 21st Century, we can better organise these courts and this system—which are specifically designed to resolve difficult and unpleasant family situations.
On the plus side, court security and the quality of facilities are good, while there was always an adequate number of staff in attendance.
However, from my perspective, the organisation was still shambolic—and, as a result, we’re letting families down and putting children at risk.
Things need to change—and we can all play a part in making this happen by raising awareness and highlighting this kind of ineptitude whenever possible.
Thanks for reading.
’Til next time,