Legal Matters: Campaigning Group Claims Act Is Flawed; for 18 Months Fathers 4 Justice Has Used Shock Tactics and 'Civil Disobedience' to Highlight What It Believes Are Injustices against Fathers in Family Law Cases. Home Affairs Correspondent Richard Warburton Looks at the Group and Its Blueprint for a Change in the Law

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Warburton

In December 2002, a group of fathers angry at the way family courts seemed to favour mothers in child access cases decided to take matters into their own hands.

Slowly but surely, the radical group expanded as word spread that loving and caring fathers wanting an equal share in the parenting of their children were prepared to stand up for their rights.

A series of civil disobedience incidents last year brought the group national exposure before two stunts this year put Fathers 4 Justice firmly on the map.

In February, four men dressed as Spiderman, Superman, Batman and Robin brought the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol to a standstill when they climbed onto the structure to make their voices heard.

Other protesters scaled bridges and gantries on major roads and motorways in London and Newcastle as the campaign spread.

Then in May, Fathers 4 Justice pulled off its biggest publicity stunt yet when, during Prime Minister's Question Time in the House of Commons, two activists managed to avoid security and throw condoms full of purple flour at Tony Blair.

Fathers 4 Justice had finally got the attention of the British public and it has pledged to continue the stunts, but it has taken a more political step in printing its blueprint for the reform of family law.

Blueprint for Family Law in the 21st Century includes a Bill of Rights for the family and three core principles called the Critical Triangle, aimed at changing family justice.

The ideas set out in the report are a response to the Children Act 1989 and attempt to combat a 'gender apartheid' which the group claims works against fathers in Government departments and the family law industry. The Children Act 1989 was intended to encourage both parents to have a shared responsibility for the upbringing of a child even if their relationship broke down and the Act's overriding principle was that the 'best interest' of the child was paramount.

Fathers 4 Justice claim the Act has an Achilles' heel in that the principle of the child's best interest is undefined and is left up to a judge to interpret as he or she wishes.

The group argues that instead of the family court believing the best interest of a child is to have equally shared parenting, a 'winner takes all' model exists where one parent gets total control.

As residence of children is awarded to the mother in 95 per cent of cases, Fathers 4 Justice claim fathers are left to fight for the right to see their children and are often subjected to court orders which limit contact.

Its new blueprint is an intelligent and thoughtful approach to changing the law in favour of equal-share parenting. 'The F4J blueprint sets out the key principles of a new family law framework for the 21st century,' it says. …