Book by Mark Harris :: UK Family Court Hell – Jailed for waving hello at my kids (2007)
Reunited: Lisa, 20, with her father, Mark Harris (Photo from the Daily Mail)
Interview with Mark Harris and his daughter Lisa
UK Channel 4; Richard and Judy Show; June 2007 ::
(Click on the arrow in the picture above to see the video with the interview)
The story of Mark Harris, his three daughters and UK family court judge Munby
The story of Mark Harris – is that of a British father jailed by the UK family courts for 10 months simply for waving at his kids. A story in which Mark for the love of his children had to make 133 (family) court appearences and had to stand in front of 33 (family court) judges, before he was finally reunited again with his children. A waste and a nonsense that has costed the British taxpayer at least a milion pounds of taxpayers money spent to keep the familycourt machinery running its failing course.
Mark recently published his book “Family Court HELL” on his experiences with the anti-father biased UK family courts and the abuse of power by the gender racist family court judge Munby.
It is a long story going back into the nineties of the last century. But let’s start from today by first listening to both Mark Harris and his daughter Lisa in their June 2007 television-interview on UK Channel 4 (above) and reading the Daily Mail article on their experiences with UK family courts and family judges (below), only to learn about their story from there by going back in history.
Father Knowledge Centre
Jailed for waving at my daughter
Source: UK Daily Mail – By JENNY JOHNSTON and RACHEL HALLIWELL – Add your comment | Comments (21) – 26th June 2007
Denied access to his three children after his divorce, Mark was jailed for standing outside his house to wave to them. It took ten years and 133 hearings before they were reunited. How CAN the Government insist cases like his are kept secret?
Every day there is some reminder of what Mark Harris calls ‘the lost years’. It could be his daughter’s reference to a particular birthday party or a family holiday. It could be talk of exams sat, dentists visited or pop stars worshipped.
Each time it happens, he feels a stab of regret. ‘I missed so much,’ he reveals, with understandable bitterness. ‘They took my daughter’s childhood, her formative years, from me. Lisa is 20 now. I didn’t see her between the ages of ten and 16. An awful lot happens in a child’s life in that time, and I missed it all.’
Reunited: Lisa, 20, with her father, Mark Harris
Lisa missed a lot, too. She sits by Mark’s side as he talks, a beautiful and assured young woman, but one still coming to terms with the fact that her father simply wasn’t there when she needed him – and for an entire decade she did not know why. ‘There were times when I needed a father figure – for reassurance and advice,’ she says, with quiet restraint. ‘There just wasn’t one there.’
But the story of what happened to the Harris family isn’t just another tragic case of broken homes and estrangement. Mark, Lisa and her two younger sisters were wrenched apart by the state. Mark was not a feckless, irresponsible father. He did not walk out of his children’s lives. Rather, he was ordered out by the family courts, and when he objected – insisting it was his right to see them – he was dealt with in a scandalous way. Mark Harris went to prison for his girls. He was jailed for waving at them after a court order demanded he sever all contact. It was the most shameful chapter in an extraordinary ten-year custody battle.
He has now ‘won’ – today, two of his daughters live with him – only because they shared their father’s determination to re-establish their relationship. He has lived every father’s worst nightmare, and every miserable step is etched on his face. ‘It took ten years, 133 court appearances before 33 different judges, two prison sentences and a hunger strike before I was given permission to be with my daughters again,’ he says quietly. ‘What happened to my family is unforgivable. And that it was all sanctioned – ordered – by a system that is supposed to help families is outrageous.’
The controversial family court system has much to answer for in this case. Mark Harris isn’t the first father who has questioned how it operates. Family court proceedings are notoriously secretive, and campaigners have long appealed for the proceedings to be more open and judges more accountable. That is not to be, however. Last week the Lord Chancellor ruled that proceedings must remain secret – something that horrifies Mark and his girls.
So angry is he about his experiences that he has written a book, Family Court Hell. ‘Surely my story is evidence enough that the system needs to change. ‘If it doesn’t, the family courts are open to abuse by unaccountable judges and social workers with their own agendas, whose word is taken as law and who almost invariably favour the mother. ‘It’s a scandal which has left hundreds of fathers like me in desperation. The only solution is to have a court system that’s transparent. Otherwise it is simply not fair to fathers or, more importantly, to the children it is supposed to protect.’
When Lisa was born in 1988, Mark felt ‘like the happiest man alive’. He had been married to his wife – whom we cannot name even now for legal reasons – for three-and-a-half years, and he had longed for fatherhood. Over the next four years, two more daughters followed. MARK says: ‘I remember thinking how lucky I was because I had a job that I could organise around the children. I’m a driving instructor, so my work was flexible. I loved the time I spent with Lisa. Not every father could read their children stories, bath them or take them out for walks in their pram.’
Mark thought he had a happy marriage, too. The only difficulty was his strained relationship with his mother-inlaw. Yet it didn’t concern him much. ‘Looking back, we rowed constantly about my mother-in-law, but I never thought it would lead to drastic action,’ he says. Perhaps he will never know exactly what was wrong in his marriage, but his wife was clearly unhappy.
One day in 1993, Mark returned from a football match to find the house ‘looking as though it had been ransacked’. Almost all the furniture had disappeared. So, too, had his wife and children, and he had no clue where they had gone. ‘I went to the police,’ he says. ‘I was beside myself, distraught. They said my wife was in a rented house nearby, but that I shouldn’t go round until the next day. When I did, she told me she no longer loved me, but said I could see the children whenever I wanted. I was bereft.
‘I took the children home for a few hours and they spent the time crying – they were only six, four and two, and it must have been horrific for them to see their parents like that. They wanted to know when we’d all be at home together again, and I didn’t know what to say. I was as shocked and bewildered as them.’
Over the next few weeks, Mark stumbled through life in a daze. He saw his girls every day he wasn’t working, but his anger towards his wife was building up. Two months after she left, she asked if he would take her back. Mark was too hurt to contemplate that. Instead, he launched divorce proceedings.
‘At that point, it didn’t even occur to me that access to the children would be an issue. I was granted unrestricted access – but later I discovered that even then my wife was seeing a solicitor, with a view to having my time with them reduced. She said it was confusing for them to see me.’
THE FAMILY court agreed, and his access was reduced to three times a week, then to once a week and finally to once a fortnight. Mark was stunned to discover he was powerless to resist. ‘I petitioned the judge every time, but there was nothing I could do,’ he says.
A year after they had separated, the couple divorced. Again, Mark made a bid to see more of his girls, and asked the court if they could live with him. His wife retaliated, claiming that seeing him at all was unsettling them. The court’s reaction? It banned him from any contact at all with his daughters. ‘I was just floored, disgusted. On my wife’s word, the judge simply severed all my rights of access. When I protested, no one listened. I was devastated, but there was no way I was going to turn my back on my children. How could a court order stop me from being a father?’
Every morning, while he waited for a court date to argue against this judgment, Mark saw his children being driven past his house to school by their mother. He’d wave – angry that he couldn’t say hello, but grateful for their smiles. Then his former wife was granted an injunction stopping him even gesturing to his children as they passed. ‘It was incredible. She said it was harassment, and the court believed her. But I carried on waving. I was looking for a job and I’d walk to the Jobcentre every morning – knowing how to time it so they would come past. ‘I was damned if I was going to be prevented from waving at my own children. Naively, maybe, I assumed the whole business would be cleared up at the next court hearing.’
It wasn’t. Instead, Mark left that courtroom in handcuffs, sentenced to four months, having been told that waving was tantamount to stalking his ex. He couldn’t believe what was happening. ‘On my first night in jail I shared a cell with a murderer,’ he says. ‘It was so intimidating. The next few weeks just blurred into one long nightmare. Every waking hour I pined for my girls, wondering if I would ever see them again. ‘When I got out, the nightmare continued. It took another year for me to convince the courts I should be allowed to see them at all. Life was an endless round of court hearings. It was a wretched existence. Time and again I’d be facing a new judge and having to re-tell the story. To me, it was a matter of life and death, but to them, it seemed I was just another pushy, undeserving father who was trying to interfere in his former wife’s life. ‘I was so messed up by it all that I had a vasectomy to ensure I couldn’t find myself in that position again.’
Finally, five years after the separation, Mark was granted permission to see his daughters. He was excited about the planned date – but devastated when Lisa didn’t turn up. ‘By then I was livid at the system. It was destroying my life. I know it was a foolish thing to do, but I started picketing the homes of the judges who had denied me contact, hoping they would take pity on me.’ His protests were to no avail. Instead, in 2001, he was sentenced to ten months in prison for contempt of court for driving past his girls’ house to catch a glimpse of them. By then spiralling into depression, he went on hunger strike. For two weeks he refused food and water. ‘I stopped only when I realised that if I died I would never see my precious daughters again,’ Mark says.
Who knows how this desperate fight to be a father would have ended had Lisa, then 16, not intervened. ‘After a row with her mother, she called Mark and told him she and one of her sisters wanted to live with him. ‘I got this call saying they had packed their bags and were at a bus stop. Would I pick them up? In breach of all court orders, I got in the car and brought them home. Seeing Lisa again, for the first time in six years, was incredible. I didn’t know how to speak to, or look at, this young woman before me. She was wearing make-up. She had her 6ft boyfriend in tow. It was surreal, but in the end we fell into each other’s arms and sobbed.’
It was only then that the family court system seemed to consider Mark’s rights. He called the High Court emergency hotline and eventually spoke to a ‘decent, humane judge’. Ten minutes after their conversation-he was faxed a temporary residency order. In court the following week, every previous court order was set aside. ‘It took ten minutes to put right and ten years of injustice, which made me realise just what power those judges have,’ says Mark.
The ruling meant that Lisa and her sisters could choose which parent they lived with. Lisa and her youngest sister – who, again, we can’t name for legal reasons – now live with him. Lisa is studying to be a legal secretary. Her story is even more poignant. She tells of the confusion that has blighted most of her life, and you cannot help but wonder what long-term damage has been inflicted on her and her sisters. ‘One minute we were normal children. The next we were in a rented house with Dad hammering on the door demanding to be allowed to see us,’ she says. ‘We were scared. None of it made sense. Sometimes we’d be allowed to see Dad regularly, then there were times with no contact at all. ‘When Dad disappeared out of our lives, we just thought he had stopped loving us. I was certain I’d done something wrong. ‘The first time we saw him waving to us as we went to school, I was thrilled. I remember thinking: “He still cares.” ‘Every morning, Mum would tell us we shouldn’t look at him – that he was a bad man – yet we couldn’t help but grin when we saw him. It made our day.’ It was impossible for Lisa’s mother to go a different route.
WHEN her father went to prison, no one explained to Lisa why. ‘Mum said: “You see – I told you he was bad.” I was ten years old. As far as I knew, you had to do something pretty awful to go to prison.’ She turned against her father, telling social workers she didn’t want to see him. Yet with hindsight she explains she was simply trying to gain control over the horrific situation. ‘There was this endless pantomime with social workers wanting to know what I thought. All I wanted was to be allowed to love both my parents, but I knew that was never going to happen.
‘Mum’s hatred for Dad was so deep that to keep her happy, and to get them off my back, I said I wouldn’t see him. Turning love to hate made that easier. I told myself that my dad had been wicked, so he deserved it.’ When the courts finally granted access, Lisa was so tortured that she often didn’t turn up to see her father. She thought she was protecting her mother by siding with her.
However, when she fell out with her mother during a phase of teenage rebellion, it was to her father that she fled – and when she discovered he had never stopped loving her, she was left reeling. ‘I’d never forgotten Dad’s number. I know I was only ringing him then to get back at Mum, but when I heard his voice, I wanted to cry. I told him I loved him and that I wanted to see him. Everything just flooded out.’
The first meeting was as hard for her as it was for him. ‘The last time I’d seen him I’d been ten and carrying a skipping rope. When I walked into my old bedroom – and saw it was as I had left it – I wanted to sob. I didn’t dare do so, though, because I knew if I did I’d never stop.’
Four years on, Lisa and Mark are only just beginning to rebuild their relationship. Every day, more gaps are filled, and more trust regained. Meanwhile, Lisa rarely sees her mother, and she is angry at her mother’s behaviour. It is a desperately sorry story, with no real winners. But then, as Lisa points out, it was never supposed to be a contest.
‘I wish to God that my parents had avoided the courts from day one, and simply shared us, the children they created together,’ she says. ‘Instead, complete strangers were allowed to get involved in our lives to such an extent that everyone lost sight of the needs of us children. ‘I love both my parents; I always will. But I will never get my childhood back. It is gone for ever.’
Written by Mark Harris
Details :: Pen Press Publishers Ltd Paperback; Language English; 230 pages; ISBN-10: 1906206120; ISBN-13: 978-1906206123; 17 Jun 2007
This is one man’s harrowing story of frustration and determination as he battled for access rights to his young daughters following the bitter break-up of his marriage. Incredibly, his was a journey that spanned almost ten years, with 133 hearings by 33 judges, and which reportedly cost the taxpayer over GBP1 million. What should have been a “simple contact dispute” somehow resulted in this innocent family man effectively being criminalized by the family courts, resulting in a stretch on the A Wing of the infamous Pentonville prison, which housed convicted murderers, terrorists, gun runners and drug dealers. Mark Harris eventually took his case public and the campaign for fathers’ rights took off – with the formation of Fathers 4 Justice. This is a shocking story that deserves to be heard.
From the Author
Any father whose got nowhere in the family courts when trying to maintain his relationship with his children may well think he lost out for a variety of reasons; because his case was not put properly, the judge did not listen, the welfare report was bias or some other likely reason for why the injustice took place.
By reading ‘Family Court Hell’ it should become apparant that farce and injustice is dished out routinely in the family courts-if your children’s mother simply opposes you seeing them. Fathers up against a mothers’ hostility will usually get no where at all-especially when young children are involved-as the courts avoid being put in the position of having to enforce any order upon a mother. They would rather demonise the father instead and pick him off as an individual troublemaker. Truth, justice or even the children’s welfare is simply not on the agenda. You are not alone, this is just the way they operate.
Going back in history :: Mark Harris jailed by family court judge Munby for waving to say ‘Hello’ to his children!
Source: Fathercare :: 23 March 2001
Family judge Munby’s decision starts protests
Judge Munby’s Order of Comittal:
“By orders dated the 3rd day of July 1998 as subsequently varied on 18 September 1998, 25 November 1998, 20 January 1999, 11 March 1999 and 7 February 2000 (SEE ATTACHED HERETO)
- Upon the application by the Petitioner by notice of Motion dated 18th October 2000.
- AND UPON HEARING Counsel for the Petitioner, Counsel for the respondent and Counsel for the Official Solicitor
- AND UPON READING the affidavit of Peter Stewart Smith sworn on 12 October 2000, Charles Oliver 12 October 2000, “The mother” sworn on 13 October 2000, ” The mothers boyfriend” sworn 13 October 2000, Lianne Verna Katibeh sworn 16 October 2000, Mark Dean Harris sworn on 8 December 2000 and “the mother” sworn on 4 January 2001.
- And the respondent accepting that a copy of the said orders and said summons have been served upon the Respondent Mark Dean Harris,
- AND having taken the oral evidence of “the mother”, “the mothers boyfriend”, Lianne Verna Katibeh, and Mark Dean Harris
- AND UPON it appearing to the satisfaction of the Court that the said Mark Dean Harris has been guilty of contempt of Court namely that;
- On 2 April 2000 he approached the children (eldest), (middle) and (youngest) outside Chaplins superstore in Plymouth and talked to them there by breaching paragraph (h) of the order,
- Shortly before 20 April he sent to the mother through the post a cheque for £900 post dated to 29 April 2000, with a note stating that the Cheque could be cashed if (the eldest) attended the next session of contact and continued to attend contact, thereby breaching paragraphs (d) and (i) of the order,
- On April 25 2000 he did enter (road A) in a car seeking contact or communication with the children and driving past the mother thereby breaching paragraphs (a) (d) and (h) of the order,
- On 26 April 2000 he did hand birthday presents to (middle) and (youngest) during the session of contact and without the presents first having been approved by Plymouth City Council thereby breaching paragraph (h) of the order,
- On 27 june 2000 he left a note for (the youngest) in one of her school books after attending an evening at (her school) to discuss her work and without the note first having been approved by Plymouth City Council thereby breaching paragraph (h) of the order,
- On 7 August 2000 he entered (road A) , Plymouth, in a car seeking contact or communication with the children and driving past waving to the mother and the children thereby breaching paragraphs (a) (d) & (h) of the order,
- On 24 August 2000 he entered (road A) in a car seeking contact or communication with the children and driving past the mother and the children thereby breaching paragraphs (a) (d) and (h) of the order,
- Shortly before 30 August 2000 he sent or caused to be sent through the post to (the eldest) an article from “Families Need Fathers” and without the article first having been approved by Plymouth City Council thereby breaching paragraph (h) of the order,
- On 5 October 2000 he entered (road A) in a car seeking contact or communication with the children thereby breaching paragraphs (a) and (h) of the order,
- On 7 October 2000 he approached (the eldest) in New George Street, Plymouth and spoke to her thereby breaching paragraph (h) of the order.
It is ordered that;
- for each of his said contempts 1 and 10 above the Contemnor Mark Dean Harris do pay a fine of £250 each (total £500) to be paid within 12 months from today,
- for each of his said contempts 2,4,5. and 8 above the Contemnor Mark Dean Harris do stand committed to Her Majesty’s Prison at Pentonville for a period of 4 months or until he shall be sooner discharged by due course of Law (these sentences to run concurrently with each other)
- for each of his said contempts 3,6,7 and 9 above the Contemnor Mark Dean Harris do stand committed to Her Majesty’s Prison at Pentonville for a period of 6 months or until he shall be sooner discharged by due course of law (the sentences to run concurrently with each other but consecutively to the sentences in (2) above
AND the Contemnor Mark Dean Harris can apply to the Judge to purge his contempt and ask for release,
And it is further ordered that any application for the release of the said Mark Dean Harris from custody shall be made to a Judge,
And it is further ordered that there be no order for costs, save that there be detailed assessment of the publicly funded costs of the assisted parties,
DATED 23 MARCH 2001
Sir James Laurence Munby
Comment by Mark Harris (June 2001) ::
It should be noted that throughout the period these heinous crimes were committed, I had a contact order for unsupervised contact. Someone should explain as to why the mother breaching the Contact order (see breach (2) ) attached no penalty for her at all, but got me 4 months for trying to bribe her to comply with the order ? And, perhaps someone can tell me the logic of giving me four months for giving the children birthday presents on an unsupervised contact (breach 4)?I think this particular piece of Judicial abuse of power should be recorded for future history, as this sort of behaviour is in the class of the Nazi extremes, and in future may be viewed in the same category by historians.
Fathercare-links on this story ::
* 2001 :: Judge Munby’s order jails Mark Harris for 10 months (including four months for giving the children birthday presents, and 2 months for waving ‘hello’).
* 2001 :: Judge Munby uses Telegraph journalist Joshua Rozenberg to publicly humiliate and defame a father whose children want to see him and who has fought against the anti-father Family Court System.
* 2003, April 13th :: Mark Harris’s children defy Judge Munby’s wishes by voting with their feet to re-unite with their dad. The father who was jailed by Judge Munby to 4 month in jail for giving presents to his children, and 2 month for waving ‘hello’ is reunited with his children. Read more
* 2004, Friday April 2nd :: Judge Munby launches an extraordinary attack on the family justice system for failing separated fathers and their children. He said he was ashamed. Read about Munby’s extra-ordinary outburst
* 2004, Monday, April 5th :: Lisa Harris, whose father had been jailed by Judge Munby to 10 months in for trying to see his children, and whom Munby had publicly defamed in the Daily Telegraph as a “charlatan”, goes public with her anger at the Judge for stopping yet another girl seeing her dad while trying to blame somebody else for his own actions. Read the latest twist to Munby’s attempt to evade the blame for putting the Family Courts into terminal decline here.
Additionally – in an interview in the Daily Telegraph of April 28th, 2001 – the ‘Judge Munby’ set out to publicly brand and defame Mark Harris as ‘martyr father’ and as a ‘charlatan’:
Judge brands ‘martyr’ father as a charlatan
Source: Daily Telegraph – By Joshua Rozenberg – (28/04/2001)
A FATHER who “cast himself as a martyr” in a high-profile legal battle over his three daughters was described by a High Court judge yesterday as an “unprincipled charlatan” who should have no direct contact with them.
Mr Justice Munby said the children’s welfare was best served by them having no direct contact with Mark Harris, 42, a driving instructor from Plymouth. He referred to one of a number of demonstrations by supporters of Mr Harris outside the homes of various judges. The demonstrations were publicised on the internet. Posters were displayed criticising Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the Family Division. One read: “If BSE-infected meat is bad for kids . . . why is this mad cow in charge of Family Courts?”
Mr Justice Munby, sitting in the Family Division in London, said: “No amount of intimidation, whether demonstrating outside their homes, vilifying them on the internet or bombarding them with offensive letters, will have any effect on the judges or their families, or deflect the judges from their sworn duty to do right to all manner of people without fear or favour affection or ill-will, or alter their approaches to the cases they are called upon to try.”
The judge said Mr Harris’s daughters lived with their mother following her divorce from him. The daughters wanted and enjoyed contact with their father. The judge said that the mother did not significantly oppose contact, but “all three daughters have ended up opposed to and refusing to participate”.
He said: “Mr Harris is the author of his own immense misfortune. He is also, even though he probably cannot recognise it, the cause of the blighting of his daughters’ lives.” The mother and children have been left, he said, with a “beleaguered feeling of being stalked and harassed”.
The judge said one reason he was giving his ruling in open court was that the case had been promoted as a cause celebre both by Mr Harris and by a number of campaigning organisations, including Families Need Fathers, the Equal Parenting Council, the UK Men’s Movement and the group set up by Mr Harris himself, Dads Against Discrimination.
Mr Justice Munby said: “Mr Harris has cheerfully cast himself and allowed and encouraged others to cast him in the role of martyr. I believe there is a public interest in the members of these organisations knowing just how they have been bamboozled and cynically manipulated by a man, devoid of all moral scruple, who is singularly ill-suited either to assume the martyr’s crown or to act as an ambassador for such organisations. “Mr Harris has manipulated the press by feeding it tendentious accounts of these proceedings, enabled to do so because he has been able hypocritically to shelter behind the very privacy of the proceedings which hitherto has prevented anyone correcting his misrepresentations.”
Mr Harris, who is serving a 10-month sentence for contempt of court, was in court for the ruling, as were a number of his supporters. The judge rejected an application by Mr Harris to “purge” his contempt and release him from prison “to start with a clean sheet”.
Mark Harris reunited with his kids
Source :: Fathercare 2003 :: Judge Munby Latest
From: Fathers4Justice; Matthew O’Connor, Wednesday, March 26, 2003 2:17 PM
Subject: BREAKING NEWS RE MARK HARRIS
Mark had the surprise of his life on Sunday when his eldest and youngest girls arrived on his door step saying that they wanted to live with him!!! Apparently mum had confiscated a mobile phone Mark had given his youngest daughter because it had his number on it. Her 2nd marriage had also broken down and things in the house were not good.
Mark called the duty Judge on Sunday night and had a temporary residence order faxed through from Judge Coleridge whilst he was dining out with his daughters. The Police had arrived at his house (at mums instruction) in the interim but the magic piece of paper sent them packing. Yesterday he secured an interim residence order and mum is now very bitter saying ‘how could my daughters repay me like this after all I’ve done for them’.
I am personally delighted for Mark. I first met him in the Hotel Pentonville a few years back and have stayed in touch ever since. Whilst other groups picked him up and then abandoned him when it suited their means, the rest of us have stuck by him. Yes he’s got ‘militant’ views, but his clarity and central plank in his argument have always been persuasive. Whilst others have lost sight of the target getting bogged down in plans, courses and other forms of futile education, alot of what Mark says continues to resonate with alot of people in this movement.
Perhaps what this illustrates match is how bankrupt this system is. Children will vote with their feet eventually, the price though is resentment now between mum and her daughters. So much for the child’s best interests. I think this is one outcome the LCD should be made aware of.
(Click on both pictures to have larger and readable versions)
Judge Munby also – as must be added to his credit – later on April 2nd of 2004 came round with a media statement in another case saying that family courts are failing fathers and that he felt ashamed about it:
Legal system is failing fathers, says judge
Source :: UK Daily Telegraph – By Sarah Womack and Yolanda Copes-Stepney – 02/04/2004
One of the country’s most senior family judges launched a blistering attack on the legal system yesterday for failing divorced and separated fathers. Mr Justice Munby said he felt “ashamed” after dealing with a man who had fought unsuccessfully for five years to see his daughter, and he argued that mothers who repeatedly defied court rulings on access should be jailed.
Mr Justice Munby
“A wholly deserving father left my court in tears having been driven to abandon his battle for contact with his seven-year-old daughter,” the judge told the Family Division of the High Court in London. “From the father’s perspective, the last two years of litigation have been an exercise in absolute futility. It is shaming to have to say it, but I agree with his view. I feel desperately sorry for him. I am very sad the system is as it is.”
Mr Justice Munby’s comments come at a time of growing protests against the decisions of the family courts in favour of the mother. Last year David Chick, 37, spent six days dressed as Spider-Man on a 100ft crane near Tower Bridge in London to protest over access rights to his daughter. He was a runner-up in a Channel 4 viewers’ poll for the most significant political figure of the year. Fathers for Justice stage a rooftop protest at the High Court.
Well-known fathers, including Bob Geldof and the Prince of Wales, have also criticised the system for being weighted against fathers. Geldof, who was involved in a protracted custody battle with his ex-wife, the late Paula Yates, said: “God bless Mr Justice Munby. The law itself is the problem and the system that implements that primary injustice compounds it.”
In an attempt to defuse the situation, the Government has introduced pilot projects based on mediation between parents, but fathers’ groups say they are too little, too late. They point out that 40 per cent of divorced fathers lose contact with their children after just two years. The same percentage of mothers admit to “thwarting contact” between children and their fathers.
Mr Justice Munby, 55, who has a son and a daughter, said a lack of resources and “scandalous” court delays were major problems. But he also regarded the legal process as “adversarial” and counter-productive because it focused on the arguments of the parents, not the child. “There is much wrong with our system and the time has come for us to recognise that [or] risk forfeiting public confidence,” he said. In the particular case of the father and his daughter, Mr Justice Munby focused on the system’s failure to prevent the mother from ignoring contact arrangements.
Among the many excuses put forward by the mother was that the child, known only as D, was frightened by the father’s chastisement of her, that D was forcibly fed by him and that he threatened not to return her after contact. “All those allegations, I emphasise, were groundless. Conspicuously absent, also, are any judicial findings supporting the mother’s allegations of domestic violence.”
The parents separated when their daughter was two, with the father allowed to see her every Saturday. But the mother attempted to “sabotage” contact and was in contempt of court. On one occasion she was jailed for two weeks for a “flagrant breach of court orders”.
Matters came to a head in December 2001, the last time the father saw his daughter, when he lost his temper with the child’s mother. “The father behaved most foolishly. But the mother needs to ask herself why,” said Mr Justice Munby. “The plain answer is that it was her constant sabotage of contact that goaded him beyond endurance. “What is this father supposed to do? Just walk away from his daughter in the faint hope that perhaps if he does not press for contact something will happen? Surely not. “Is he to be criticised for continuing to invoke what thus far has proved to be the wholly inadequate assistance of the court? Certainly not. He would, in my judgment, be fully justified if he believed as a responsible and loving father that the time for appeasing the mother had come to an end.”
The case had spent nearly five years in the courts. There were 43 hearings conducted by 16 different judges and more than 950 pages of evidence. Mr Justice Munby said that where a mother thwarted contact on a Saturday, she should be ordered to attend court on the Monday and, if she did not, she should be arrested. She could be told that if she thwarted contact again, she would be jailed for up to three days. While committal was “the remedy of last resort”, it might “achieve the necessary coercive effect without significantly impairing a mother’s ability to look after her children”.
Matt O’Connor, the founder of Fathers 4 Justice, said: “Lord Justice Munby’s comments are highly significant. There seems to be a sea change in the way family law is being perceived at the moment.”
John Baker, of Families Need Fathers, said: “Justice Munby is absolutely spot on. Making allegations is risk free for the person making them. There should be sanctions when they are proved unfounded. In other sections of the law it would be seen as perjury. “Time that is lost [between father and child] should be seen as a debt to the child and paid back in new contact arrangements.”
A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor’s Department said: “In terms of contact orders, the Government is aware of the issues but is wary of imprisoning or fining a mother who deprives a child of contact with their father.” He said fresh proposals to help fathers would be announced this summer.
Daughter’s anger at ashamed High Court Judge Munby
Source :: Fathercare
Dad4Justice Press release, Monday, 5th April 2004, 8:43 AM
A 17 year old girl today condemned the Judge who last week said he was ‘ashamed‘ at the treatment of a father who had been denied all contact with his daughter by the family justice system in a case he had ruled on. Lisa Harris from Devon said the Judge concerned, Mr Justice Munby, ‘should be ashamed – he let our whole family down and branded my dad a charlatan.’
Ms Harris said ‘he said he was acting in our interests but stopped us from seeing dad even though we wanted to see him. He has ruined my family. I am very angry now that he has stopped another girl seeing her dad and is trying to blame somebody else. ‘
Mr Harris, a member of campaign group Fathers 4 Justice, spent 129 days in Pentonville Jail for trying to see his children MORE than the Court had sanctioned, which was SIX times per year, fully unsupervised, at his home. His case lasted 133 court appearances in front of 33 different judges and cost the taxpayer £750,000. In an amazing turn around, two of his daughters ran away from their mother to live with him in breach of all court orders last year. Lisa now lives with her dad and both his other daughters live him 50% of the time.
Mr Harris said ‘Last weeks judgement was history repeating itself only this time round Munby is trying to save his own bacon by blaming the system yet he has the authority to enforce his orders. He called me a charlatan but he ruined our family.’ ‘My case shows how Judges are acting AGAINST the best interests of the child. My daughters and I intend to confront him soon to ask him why he stopped them seeing their father. He has done nothing to help this poor father and only when the dad concerned gave up did Munby say he wished he could have helped him. He has destroyed another family.’