[Note: the following link will take you to a piece by Ray Barry about this story, with more details than in his piece included in this blog post. It’s titled, ‘Who killed the Bill? The NSPCC did.’
Last Wednesday was a dark day for fathers’ rights in the UK. The innocuous-sounding Coram Children’s Legal Centre (‘CCLC’) issued the following:
Children and Families Bill: ‘Shared Parenting’ legislation amendment places child welfare before presumption of equal contact
A consortium of children’s charities has successfully campaigned for an amendment to the Children and Families Bill which it feared could endanger the welfare of children whose parents are separating.
The Shared Parenting Consortium, led by Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CCLC) was concerned that the adoption of clause 11, which states that courts should ‘presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare’ could lead to separating parents assuming they are legally bound to equally share access to their children.
The consortium, which includes NSPCC, wanted to ensure the best interests of the child remain the paramount concern when reaching decisions on their upbringing.
Following their campaign over the last year, an amendment to clause 11 has now been made which clarifies that “involvement” means involvement of some kind, either direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child’s time.
CCLC’s Director of International Programmes and Research, Professor Carolyn Hamilton said:
“The message to separating parents is that neither mothers nor fathers are entitled to a legally binding presumption of shared contact. Decision-making instead should rightly focus on determining the needs and best interests of each individual child, rather than focusing on the expectations of parents. 90% of access cases are settled out of court, so this amendment is crucial. It will make it clear on the face of the Bill that the welfare of children is paramount.”
The Bill will now move from the Third reading in the Lords and be sent back to the Commons for consideration of the Lords’ amendments. Finally, it will be sent to the monarch for royal assent and become law.
A link to the CCCL piece online:
Virtually all of the staff of the CCCL are women, and one of its patrons is an odious gender feminist, Cherie Blair QC.
Ray Barry, leader of the Equal Parenting Alliance and Real F4J, will be our candidate for Wolverhampton SW at the 2015 general election. He writes:
This effectively negates the intended heart of the Bill, that there be a presumption that contact with both parents is in a child’s welfare interest, unless there is evidence to the contrary. This contact is now defined as “direct or indirect.” Indirect contact might be as little as permission to send your child a card every Christmas. With this presumption now effectively removed from the Bill, the position will be no different to the current position. Every initiative in the last 40 years to give a father a right in law to have access to his children has begun with trumpeting that this much-needed right will be put into law, and it is chipped away during the reading stages of the Bill by powerful lobby groups until there is nothing left of it, and exactly the same thing has happened this time. I would like to say I am surprised and disappointed but I am not. This is what I expected and predicted from the start.
Ray is working on a more detailed commentary on this matter, and we hope to post it later today.
So, what can we do now? We can encourage our MPs to sign the following Early Day Motion (EDM):
That this House notes that many fathers convicted of no criminal offence have very limited access to their children as a result of decisions made by the family courts following separation or divorce; further notes that the family courts operate in conditions of secrecy in which there is a lack of public accountability for the decisions they make; believes that mothers, children and fathers all have rights in relation to family contact and access where there has been family breakdown; further believes there should not be a presumption that family breakdown is the primary responsibility of either parent; further believes that where there is palpably no threat to children from their father in the context of family breakdown, the courts should try to maximise reasonable access in the interests of the children; and calls on the Government to review the operation of the family courts in general and their decision-making in relation to fathers’ access to children in the context of family breakdown in particular, taking into account the testimony of the many thousands of fathers who feel their rights are being ignored or abused in relation to their children and in particular the organisation Fathers4Justice and the 36,000 families it represents.
The EDM has been signed by 69 MPs, and needs to be signed by 100 by the end of February. We note that of the 69 signatories just seven are Conservatives, including Philip Davies MP, the only politician who’s ever won a ‘Winston’ award. We urge you to contact your MP and ask him/her to sign the EDM by the end of this month. Thank you.