I could tell you the personal story behind my own obsession with family law, but then I’d have to kill you. I’m joking. I wouldn’t kill you afterwards but I would cyber stalk you and start sending you private messages on facebook and twitter begging you not to disclose the information I’d given to you to anyone, anywhere, ever. Eventually, unless you’re very on the ball about internet privacy, I’ll track you down, and show up on your front door some night. My appearance will be disheveled and I may present as highly agitated. I’ll grab at the sleeve of your cardigan and reiterate the private nature of the stuff I’ve told you. ‘Under pain of death, you must not tell!’ I’ll be shouting at this point. ‘Tell who?’ you’ll ask, your eyes a mix of fear and curiosity. ‘Them,’ I’ll reply.
You’ll just assume I’m nuts, and get in line sister. But I’m not crazy. I’m cautious. I’m aware that anything I say to anyone at anytime about my story could someday be used against me in a court of law. And that’s not just because I’ve watched too many episodes of ‘Suits’.
Now I’m not here to sell family law to you, because truly I hope you are never in the market. I would however like to open your eyes to the plight of Mothers who find themselves trapped beneath the weight of its power. Their reasons for being there are as varied as their nationalities, accents and the type of shoes they wear. Because everybody has a story. Their reasons for being there, by in large, are identical. They have no other recourse as mothers wishing to protect their children than to turn to the state and ask the state to put in place legal barriers between them and a perceived threat. It’s feminism 101. And all the things our mothers – though not my own who was Irish and busy doing the work of ten men in her role as rural housewife -fought for and won. In theory.
In actuality, the secretive nature of it means there is no accountability for the actions of the people who work within it. In practicality, what that means is they have no incentive whatsoever to be good at their job. In fact, even scarier, their job which is fundamentally to protect children, becomes secondary to pleasing the only authority they are accountable to, namely the judge on any given day. ‘Course the apologists, comprising mainly of people profiting from working in this and related fields, talk about the appeals system. The appeals system is also secretive so we never get to talk about it for very long.
Judges, as anyone with any imagination knows, are conservative people. In criminal courts we have dragged them kicking and screaming into the twenty first century by explaining to them time and time again the nature of crimes against women. Every few years we still have to spell out the meaning of consent for them. If she was drunk she couldn’t consent. The clothes she wears offer no indication of consent. Her previous sexual history in no way negates her lack of consent this time. The list is ongoing and constantly subject to updates as out of touch law enforcers, often referred to as judges, continue to act like it’s 1973. If it wasn’t for the media jumping on these judgments shaming the establishment into action, then our criminal justice system would never have evolved. The appalling low conviction rate for sex crimes would be even lower. There would be even more rapists on the street.
I appreciate that family law is something of an anomaly in the real world, unlike criminal law, which everybody has some basic understanding of, just by watching TV or scrolling through the headlines. Family Law is like the illegitimate second cousin of real law. You can’t forget about it completely, but you don’t have to ask it to every family gathering, or take too much of an interest in its life. After all, it will never happen to you.
Well guess what? Neither will a lot of the criminal stuff, but you still talk about that, and engage with that as a valid subject at parties. ‘Is there anything worse than the wrongful conviction of an innocent man?’ You’ll hypothesise. Well, yeah! The state stealing your babies. ‘Coz that’s like two wrongs, which, if everything must be turned into a competitive sport, is worse than one.
‘The state doesn’t steal babies,’ You’ll tut. ‘When did they last cover that on Panorama?’ and lucky old you with the luxury of doubt.
Not that I’m knocking doubt! How different might my own life had been if I hadn’t doubted much that I was told was truth? How different most peoples? But doubt from an informed position is very different than doubt bred from an absence of knowledge. That’s simply ignorance.
And of course you are ignorant because there is a conspiracy to keep you so.