How courts let down fathers and children in access battles
How courts let down fathers and children in access battles
Sir: I read with disbelief the letter from Chris Othen headed "Justice is being done, but fathers must be prepared to fight" (27 September). In my case I had to pay legal fees of around £20,000 to be allowed to see my children four times per week. I managed to obtain a shared residence order. I have no regrets and I shall be paying off the resultant debt for years to come.
I encountered the bias against fathers first-hand from a 60-year-old pompous judge who told me he never had to help his children with their homework, or "prep" as he called it.
The law is unbiased but it is biased judges who apply the law. It is cost and this bias which prevents most fathers going through the courts. Sixty-year-old male judges think they are unbiased since they never changed a nappy in their own lives.
Name and address supplied
Sir: Chris Othen, a solicitor, contends that the legal system governing access after divorce or separation is fine and that "if [fathers] are serious about contact, stop complaining about the law and get a good solicitor".
I have spent almost £100,000 on solicitors and barristers to date. I have no meaningful contact with my sons, nor they with me. This is entirely because of their mother. Such contact that does occur is dominated by their fear of her reaction should they communicate with me.
I have heard the child psychiatrist appointed by the High Court tell the court that my sons have suffered considerable emotional abuse by their mother and that the court should consider changing custody to me. I have heard the judge say, after my ex-wife failed to comply with yet another access order, "What can I do? If I send the mother to jail, the children will blame the father."
I understand why the court has such difficulties, although I also understand that, as a result of these, my children (and myself) have suffered and continue to suffer permanent damage at the hands of my ex-wife. I am appalled at Mr Othen's ignorance or naivety. Whilst I would not criticise the ability, effort or commitment of my legal team, they must know even better than I that they are getting rich on the back of my, and my sons', suffering, and that under the current legal system there is no end in sight until the funds run out.
I applaud the efforts of Fathers4Justice in raising the profile of this issue. I also applaud Deborah Orr, who has written intelligently on this problem for a number of years.
Name and address supplied
The hidden costs of creating rubbish
Sir: The Government has launched a £10m initiative to raise public awareness of recycling ("Dustbin of history beckons for the throwaway society", 27 September). Recycling is not, however, the answer to our waste problems.
Waste management methods are listed in an order of preference known as the Waste Hierarchy. They are waste minimisation, re-use, recycling and disposal. We need to take attention away from the "bin end" of the waste chain. Instead of "We have this waste, what shall we do with it?" we need to be asking "How can we make less waste?"
Industry constantly looks for ways to reduce costs but tends to regard waste costs as those incurred by disposal, often forgetting that they have paid for everything in the skip, then paid again for it to be turned into waste before having to pay again for it to be taken away. The true cost of waste can be 10-20 times higher than the cost of disposing of it.
Since a high percentage of household waste is packaging, even more pressure needs to be placed on manufacturers to cut it down. A good example is products that come in an oversized boxes to make them more visible on the shelf. The Government could also make more effort to educate people on opportunities to minimise household waste by composting organic waste or buying food in larger packets.
Since disposal of waste through landfill and incineration are not sustainable and recycling needs massive investment to become a viable industry, why isn't more attention being paid to the cheaper, more preferable waste management options?
Sir: In this area we have had recycling bins for some time, collected on alternate weeks. We have just received instructions that the authorities will now only accept limited items in these bins - catalogues, directories, newspapers, magazines, card, cardboard, envelopes, food and drink cans, and plastic bottles with the recycling marks 1, 2 and 3. The accompanying letter indicated that bins not complying would be rejected.
We had become enthusiastic recyclers, checking all our packaging and including everything with recycle symbols, and also junk mail. The new restrictions mean that a lot of recyclable items are again put into household waste. How can this be efficient?
The thought of having my bin subjected to a contents check and rejected makes me want to revert to recycling newspapers only. This is not the way to improve our record.
Tax on flying
Sir: Dan Lewis' letter (27 September) describing a policy of imposing duty on aviation fuel as a "holiday tax" seems astonishingly naive. Does he accept that there are environmental costs associated with flying? If so, who should pick up the tab? Travellers or taxpayers?
It is high time that those of us who fly (or travel by other modes) should be asked to meet the environmental costs of what we are doing. The majority of those who fly are business people (not, as Mr Lewis would have us believe, holidaymakers). Whether they are business or leisure travellers, they currently endure taxes and charges that are levied by government and airports in an opaque and indiscriminate manner.
An environmental tax on fuel would be much more equitable than the arbitrary and unfair "departure tax" and the "passenger service charge" levied by airport operators. At present, these taxes and charges take no account of the environmental impact of individual journeys. The revenue collected is not hypothecated for protecting our environment.
Transport users of all modes should accept transparent policies that, whilst requiring them to pay the true environmental costs of travel, demonstrate far more clearly how their money is being spent. This would be fairer to taxpayers and better for the environment.
Dunbar, East Lothian
Sir: Dan Lewis is wrong to suggest that a tax on aviation fuel is a tax on holidays. It's a tax on flying. I haven't flown for five years and I've had tons of holidays.
Insults to the Pope
Sir: Unlike Martin Hollywood (letter, 25 September), I applaud the BBC's decision not to screen the cartoon series Popetown. Most people in England and western Europe are more sensitive in their treatment of others and their feelings, thus making race, size or disability subjects unsuitable for mockery. The same respect should surely apply to dearly held religious beliefs.
Martin Hollywood is not demanding too much when he says that "programmes that question powerful organisations such as the Catholic church" should be allowed. However, to use a religious faith as a subject for a "satirical cartoon" is quite another matter. I would hope that Catholics would be among the first to protest were the BBC to broadcast a "satirical cartoon" about aspects of Jewish, Islamic or Buddhist faith and practice.
Sir: In (reluctantly) calling the BBC guilty of "political correctness gone mad" for pulling the Popetown series, Martin Hollywood is about as wrong as it is possible to be. In today's climate it is, unfortunately, deemed politically correct to attack the Christian religion in any of its manifestations. For my part I would have had more respect for the Beeb if, instead of commissioning Popetown, it had produced a satirical show about mullahs, ayatollahs and the rest. I can't quite put my finger on why, but I don't foresee that happening.
Sir: Bravo David Lister for echoing Kevin Spacey's words about the behaviour of theatre audiences regarding phones and sweet wrappers (25 September). Mr Spacey has been unfairly depicted as a curmudgeon but I heartily agree with him. His front of stage message at the Old Vic is delivered with great charm and is in no way offensive.
David Lister might have added to his little list of theatre-going gripes the ludicrous policy of selling highly priced programmes disguised as magazines. Five pounds - currently being charged for Spacey's production of Cloaca - is excessive.
Getting people into the theatre and instilling in them a passion for theatre-going is essential if there is to be an audience in the future. Theatres should be welcoming audiences with open arms (as Hytner's brilliant Travelex season has done), not making it an exclusive once-a-year activity.
Blair cannot move on
Sir: So Tony Blair has prayed in church for Ken Bigley: do we take it he has also prayed for the souls of the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed in his war, and for those still to die?
Mr Blair is, in Jungian terms, identified with the hero archetype. He is a Siegfried conquering the evil dragon in the hope of finding the treasure of a re-ordered world made to his black and white Manichean ideals. Jung stated that whenever anyone is identified with an archetype, he is driven to its fatal goal. Behind the hubris of the hero lies his shadow, which kills him. We must assume that nemesis awaits Mr Blair as his hubristic heroic ideals carry him to their fate. The collapse of electoral support for him is just a beginning.
Sir: The Blair people insult hard-working Labour supporters by assuming we will forget the enormity of Iraq if promised goodies on the home front. A colossal insult to our intelligence and the reason why we will not vote Labour again until there is a regime change.
Sir: I was reminded by Carey Evans' letter (27 September) that some years ago when my husband was working for the International Atomic Energy Agency, we lived in a cosmopolitan society in Vienna. It often stuck me that the Europeans were much more akin to us than the Americans, even though the latter ostensibly spoke our language.
This was exemplified by the fact that we Europeans liked to buy our eggs in the street market, where they often had dirt and feathers adhering to them, because we fancied they were fresh, whereas the Americans bought theirs in the commissariat, under the delusion that they were more hygienic; what colour they were, I cannot remember.
Sir: Sainsbury's sell eggs that are laid by the Cotswold Legbar and their shells are light blue. Explain that one!
Cakes and fishes
Sir: One has to wonder whether Mark Steel (23 September) really does not understand the maths or is merely so impatient to make his argument that he finds any exaggeration of numbers perfectly acceptable.
For the record, that Smith Kline pension, gross as it may be, would not net down to around £25 per week for 40,000 pensioners, but only for just over 700. Mr Steel probably thinks that the parable of the loaves and fishes refers to the miraculous enlargement of "the cake" by a pioneering socialist. Sadly, I fear that Jesus was, instead, the possessor of a very, very sharp slicing knife, of the type that future chancellors will need to use as we baby-boomers reach 65 - or will it be 70?
A northern huff
Sir: I was born and grew up in Lancashire (some time ago - I am now 82). In those days if a child or young person was considered to be spoilt, namby-pamby or "cry baby" he or she was described as "mard" (letter, 27 September). Sometimes even "reet mard". I suppose if they heard that description of themselves they would be entitled to "go off in a huff".
End farm subsidies
Sir: Gordon Brown's announcement that he will write off £100m of debt owed by the world's poorest countries to the World Bank sounds promising. However, EU and US subsidies to their own farmers dwarf the amount of aid and debt release. What developing countries really need is for those subsidies to be scrapped. This is what will make a permanent difference to their prospects in the 21st century.
TOM BRAKE MP
Liberal Democrat International Development Spokesperson
House of Commons
Sir: David Tobin (letter, 25 September) is right to point out that there are legal differences between internment in the UK and at Guantanamo, but these differences do not amount to "antithesis". The UK internees are "free" to return to persecution; their legal "representatives" are appointed by the prosecuting government, and are hampered by restricted access to "evidence" obtained by torture by other governments. As at Guantanamo, this is extrajudicial detention: a brutal, logically absurd and apparently gratuitous infringement of the freedoms it is justified as defending.
Sir: Is it possible that what Mr Straw really means is "They all look the same to me"?
DAVID A LEWIS
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