Family court system, Standing up to Bush and others

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The Independent Online

Shambolic family court system provokes extreme actions

Sir: The actions of a protest group in the House of Commons yesterday ("Fathers' group uses media stunts to put its message across", 20 May) not only highlighted inadequacies in the security arrangements to protect our politicians, but also brought attention to the problem many fathers face in having contact with their children.

I have suffered a similar fate to that described by one of the protestors, and admire his courage and dedication to his children. The family court system is an impotent shambles and, as was proved yesterday, is forcing law-abiding men into such extreme action. In my own case, I am about to embark on a legal battle in Scotland in an attempt to regain contact with my eight-year-old son. Indeed, this will be the fourth time I have had to return to the courts to enforce orders granted in my favour. Since moving to Scotland my ex wife is now "immune" from English family law hence my having to travel to the Scottish courts to begin the process again.

I am not an "extremist" - in fact I am both a magistrate and school governor - but I am driven to despair by the family courts' lack of action in righting a wrong and enforcing its own rulings. It seems ironic that had my ex-wife driven through a speed camera in England and then fled to Scotland the courts would pursue her, and yet, preventing her son from seeing his father is not deemed serious enough to extend jurisdiction.

I hope that Mr Blair now heeds the message of fathers who just want to enjoy their basic right to time with their children.

Feltham, Middlesex

Sir: So the sort of potentially dangerous stunt played in the House of Commons by Fathers4Justice is supposed to impress us with their mature sense of responsibility? I rest my case.

Beyton, Suffolk

Sir: In the light of Wednesday's breach of security, why not trial the proposed national identity card scheme at the Houses of Parliament? I am sure that the Government would not mind requiring all our elected and unelected representatives, and their supporting staff, to act as guinea pigs. Also, we could learn whether our technocrats were able to implement the system on budget and on time.

Maldon, Essex

The time to stand up to Bush was years ago

Sir: Michael Howard says, in your columns, that it is time for the Government to be open about its disagreements with the US ("Tony Blair must be more honest over Iraq, 20 May"). He is right that we should not be afraid to stand up to Mr Bush; but lamentably wrong about the timing.

The time when the Prime Minister should have stood up to Bush, and when the Tories were just as silent as Labour, was when the "war on terror" was first declared. That was the time to say: no military support until the US recognises the International Criminal Court, and subjects US forces to its jurisdiction; no military support without a binding commitment that any prisoners taken would be treated according to international law, and tried by an international court; no support unless the US honours the commitments it has made, such as the Kyoto Protocol, and stops supporting Israel in that country's flagrant disregard for international law; and no support for any action without the explicit support of the UN Security Council.

If Britain had stood up to the US when it counted, there might have been no Guantanamo Bay, no abuse of prisoners in Iraq, possibly even no Iraq war. At least, it would have been clear that Mr Bush was on his own. Through their silence then, both Mr Blair and Mr Howard are guilty of complicity in all these appalling crimes.

Fareham, Hampshire

Sir: As I read your items (19 May) about the Pentagon's use of Ahmed Chalabi, the difference between US and UK military doctrine and the "odd" lack of accounting for civilian deaths in Iraq, I see an immediate and unanswerable case for UK withdrawal, without delay, from this Pentagon-created slime pit.

Walk away now in protest please. There is no case for us to support these incompetents.

London N5

Sir: Those who insist that it is only a matter of time and a (hitherto undefined) change of tactics before peace and democracy can be established in Iraq are hopelessly optimistic.

Given the nature of democracy and the time it takes to become embedded, and given the history, religion, traditions and background of Iraq, which neither America nor Britain appeared to consider worth studying, it was highly unlikely that democracy would be accepted with rapture by grateful Iraqis.

Change imposed from above is viewed with suspicion, if not resentment in many a workplace confronted by a zealous "new broom" impatient for results. Expectations that "peace and democracy" can be achieved by barging into a country with "shock and awe" but with no UN or international backing, appropriating and privatising what assets are of use, destroying the infrastructure, failing to supply water and electricity, ignoring security and watching the systematic plunder of history and heritage, to say nothing of the most recently reported horrors, are surely doomed.

The casualties of all this are the truth, the dead on both sides, and democracy itself for giving such a terrible account of itself.

Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire

Israel's blindness

Sir: The ongoing barbarity in the Rafah refugee camp makes me wonder what kind of atrocity Israel would have to inflict on the Palestinians that would finally persuade the international community that enough is enough.

Why can't we see that sooner or later decisive intervention by the UN is going to be necessary to save the Palestinians from the Israelis, and the Israelis from themselves, and that delaying that intervention can only lessen the chances of peace and justice for these two unhappy adversaries? Why can't we see that the ritual handwringing of Straw and Powell and others serves only to reinforce Israel's belief that it can do what it likes when it likes and how it likes?

And why cannot the Israelis see that criticism from their friends is not disguised anti-Semitism but comes from the horror we all experience when we see a good friend behave in a manner we had supposed was beyond them.

Jews need to accept that people like me criticise Israel because they admire the Jewish people and are appalled by such policies as "targeted assassination", "collective punishment" and the sickening "human shield" practice and desperately want the Israeli people to "see themselves as their friends see them," and to recognise that their persecution of the Palestinians now involves activities they would not have believed themselves capable of in the not-so-distant past, and to realise that whatever material gain comes from such action will eternally be soiled by the methods used to obtain it.

Hastings, East Sussex

Sir: It is with some surprise that I read Fred Roberts' comments (letter, 20 May) on the "humanitarian heart of the Jewish State". Although provocation is rife on both sides of this particularly difficult situation, I think families whose homes have been bulldozed in retaliation against small numbers of their countrymen, or who have had their property illegally seized may not agree with this over-generous platitude. Other contrary opinions may be voiced by the families of those murdered, amongst them the peace activist Tom Hurndall, presumably by Israeli troopers eager to wear their "humanitarian heart" on their sleeve.

Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex

Sir: The case Fred Roberts makes for the Israeli attack on Palestinian residential areas is deeply worrying. The argument "if [Palestinian terrorists] act in civilian areas, they must bear the responsibility for the result" was also used by the Nazis when they murdered entire villages of people wherever any resistance was met. Is history not taught in schools anymore?


Queer human rights

Sir: You report the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as saying, "We deplore all oppression, on whatever basis, including homophobia, in all societies" ("Tatchell to grapple with Middle East homophobia", 14 May).

This statement was, in fact, made by the London-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The PLO, in contrast, not only refuses to condemn homophobia, it actively promotes anti-gay violence. Gay Palestinians are beaten and murdered by militants from the PLO and Hamas. They are also arrested, detained without trial, tortured and executed by the Palestinian police and security services.

These abuses are confirmed by the independent Israeli human rights watchdogs B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights. They are also corroborated by the Israeli gay organisations Aguda and Open House, which help gay Palestinian refugees.

For over 30 years I have supported the Palestinian struggle for national liberation, but freedom for Palestine must be freedom for all Palestinians - straight and gay. Unless we challenge the abuse of queer human rights now, this violent homophobia will become entrenched in a new Palestinian state and Palestinian leaders will be emboldened to abuse the rights of other Palestinian citizens.

I urge the PLO, Hamas and the PNA to condemn homophobia, support queer human rights, and to order an immediate end to the abuse of lesbian and gay Palestinians.

London SE1

Heart drugs

Sir: Dr M Schachter (letter, 19 May) is wrong to criticise your editorial. Usually, I support making certain drugs more easily available through pharmacies without the need for a GP prescription. I don't think that argument applies well to statins.

Statins will continue to be available on prescription, but the threshold is high: a 30 per cent chance of a heart attack in the next 10 years. Many people with a 10 per cent risk would want to be protected too. The low-dose drug, which can now be produced by generic manufacturers, is expected to cost £15 a month. That is relatively cheap, but will be out of reach of many people on low incomes.

I agree with your editorial conclusion that the move is cost-driven. Already the 1.8m people on the drug cost £700m a year, the biggest single item in the national drugs bill. A government that rightly promotes preventive medicine should not be surreptitiously privatising it. If a drug treatment is worth taking it should be provided equitably and available to all patients at NHS expense and on the basis of need, not their ability to pay.

Before we pathologise millions of people, we ought to rethink how we go about the important task of preventing heart disease. Diet and exercise seem likely to be a safer, cheaper and more effective.


Olympic aid

Sir: London is on the shortlist for a future Olympic Games (report, 19 May). Although good for business, do we really need them? We can have the Commonwealth Games from time to time, after all. I suggest that future Olympic Games be held in third world countries - an indirect form of aid, benefiting the peoples of the host country. Security - a very real concern - could be provided by the richer nations.

Billericay, Essex

The beautiful game

Sir: Gerry Steinberg MP is to be congratulated for urging the football authorities to introduce instant play-back facilities to rectify incorrect decisions (report, 20 May). Of course, had the system been available at the Stadium of Light on Monday, it would have allowed the referee David Pugh to rescind Julian Gray's first yellow card for an alleged trip on a Sunderland player and, more importantly, would have given him no option but to disallow Sunderland's second goal following Marcus Stewart's earlier use of an arm to control the ball.

But then, what would we have had to discuss after the game?

Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey

War opposition

Sir: The claim by the Green MEP Caroline Lucas that her party is "the only one consistently to have opposed the war" (Politics, 18 May) is misleading. Opposition to the war on Iraq is the bedrock of Respect, which is standing candidates in all European constituencies in England and Wales. The coalition of anti-war activists, trade unionists, environmental campaigners and faith groups was in fact launched as a political voice for the two million who marched, in the biggest demonstration ever seen in Britain, against the war.

North Shields, Tyne and Wear

Take no notice

Sir: I used to see shop window adverts placed by local builders who claimed that their speciality was breast removal. The later addition of the word "chimney" removed all confusion. However, imagine my horror when on a recent holiday in Norfolk I saw this cryptic message by the roadside: "Cats' eyes removed."

Enfield, Middlesex

Sir: There is a sign at our local swimming pool, just towards the deep end, which says "No arm bands beyond this point". It has always struck me as odd that non-swimmers should be obliged to take their arm bands off just when they most need them.

Harpenden, Hertfordshire