A group of fathers, many of them disgruntled at losing custody or visiting rights to their children, are reported to be gathering outside the homes of several Family Court judges at weekends, making a protest with placards and megaphones. They are doing themselves no good.
If they are hoping to present themselves to the public as men of reasonable, responsible, restrained temperament — the sort who can be trusted with the care of children — they are going the wrong way about it.
They are demonstrating an inability to accept the carefully considered decision of an independent judge who will have given them their right to a fair hearing and weighed up the best interests of their children. It may be the decisions against them have more to do with their problems with the children's mother than with the children themselves but in any case, the children's interests would have been paramount for the court.
Doubtless, the demonstrating fathers disagree about what constitutes a child's best interests and believe they know their children best. But they should get a grip of themselves, consider the fact that a dispassionate person has looked at their family's difficulties, met and listened to all the people concerned, and made an objective decision. If they believe the decision to be seriously wrong, there will be better courses available to them than protesting outside the judge's home.
There have been no reports of trespass or damage to property but the police or the judges themselves are sufficiently concerned to have the police monitor the protests. The Law Society's family law section chairwoman, Kirsty Swadling, finds it disturbing that judges, "are being threatened whether implicitly or directly in this way, including their families".
If the judges do feel intimidated the implications are serious indeed, the demonstrations could be damaging to the work of the Family Court. But there is no suggestion in the report a judge has been personally threatened, or felt threatened. It will be merely unpleasant for them and their neighbours to have protests outside their gate on a weekend, and they must not let it influence their decisions on other cases.
Doubtless, the protests are getting some support from passersby. The Family Court is the second busiest division of the District Court dealing with about 60,000 applications a year for various domestic orders and custody rulings. It is not uncommon to hear estranged fathers claim the dice is loaded against them but theirs is not the only complaint. It is equally common to hear of women being endangered when protection orders are not sought and not made or not enforced.
The new Government is planning yet another review of the Family Court. Justice Minister Andrew Little says it will take a "human rights approach", talking to those who have experienced the court's procedures and determinations. The previous Government made changes to the system in 2014 that reduced the role of lawyers and empowered families to resolve disputes outside the court if they could. Little says his review will look at whether those reforms are working.
The protesting fathers should prepare for that review and leave the judges in peace.