Justice for fathers, civil liberties and others

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The Independent Online

Justice is being done, but fathers must be prepared to fight

Justice is being done, but fathers must be prepared to fight

Sir: One of the main successes of the pressure group Fathers4Justice and their like is that there is now a general perception of bias against fathers in the law relating to children. Even Deborah Orr's thoughtful piece "A wonderful challenge for fathers" (21 September) makes this concession.

The Children Act 1989 requires the court to make the best interests of the child the paramount consideration in making a decision about arrangements for children. There is no law putting mothers above fathers; both genders are equal under this law.

Our general acceptance that "mum knows best" is only reinforced by our erroneous belief that the law agrees with us, and this naturally discourages fathers who wish to see more of their children from pursuing their cases all the way through the court system. Yet recent research suggests that those parents who pursue their contact cases to the end of the court process tend to come out with more time with their children than those who accept what is offered to them earlier on in the process.

We have a good, unbiased law relating to children in this country, and it is administered by highly experienced, careful professionals. So, if you're serious about contact, stop complaining about the law and get a good solicitor.

North Yorkshire

Sir: In response to the letter from the retired judge R J Holloway (23 September), the reason why most settlements over contact in divorce cases are out of court (only 1-2 per cent, according to R J Holloway) is because, having taken legal advice from highly reputable lawyers, we fathers are advised not to waste our money contesting ex-wives' unfair positions on contact with our children as we will in all probability lose our cases.

Judges like R J Holloway are the reason why we are here today, with fathers making the types of protest they do.

South Yorkshire

Terrorism can never justify loss of liberties

Sir: Mr Blair has reaffirmed his determination to bring liberty and democracy to Iraq, and he believes that history will judge him kindly.

In this country, liberty and democracy do not rest on the good intentions of the state, nor on values of sincerity or even Christianity, but on a range of fundamental liberties that have been fought for over centuries: habeas corpus, the right to silence, the right to jury trial, freedom from double jeopardy; and now, the secrecy of the ballot, the separation of powers, the inadmissibility of evidence from torture; et al. However, these are all being trimmed or threatened.

Do we really need Kofi Annan to tell us that civil liberties are being restricted unnecessarily in the fight against terrorism? Do we imagine that it is only happening elsewhere? With the threat of terrorism, of course our liberties can only survive at a (possibly tremendous) cost - but our forebears paid too, and not just so we would give everything up within a single generation. What we lose now, we will find very hard to recover.

We need to remind ourselves that the old liberties are there not to give undue protection to terrorists or criminals, but to protect all of us against arrogant and overbearing government. We are wasting our time in Iraq if we can't hold on to our values here.

Fleet, Hampshire

Sir: I do not understand Norman Evans (letter, 23 September) when he says that Iraqi insurgents are no freedom fighters. We have re-defined the word terrorist to mean anybody who uses force against a civilian population to meet his political objectives that do not agree with ours. This rules out Israeli use of force against the Palestinian populace and the coalition forces' bombing of Fallujah and Sadr City, where the victims can mainly be civilians, because the Israeli and Americans have the same political objectives as us.

As I understand it, the Iraqi insurgents are demanding a removal of the foreign forces currently ruling Iraq. That, by any definition, makes them freedom fighters. That is what Gandhi asked the British to do. History does not give many examples of an occupying force being positive for the country it occupies. The last two major examples, Vietnam and Afghanistan, are a case in point.

I have no doubt the same will happen in Iraq. The sooner the occupying forces leave, the better for the Iraqis and for the world. The rebuilding process will not be easy, but it will not start until after those occupying Iraq have left and have stopped meddling in its affairs.


Sir: The gung-ho Nick Martin-Clark says that "to some extent international law is what the great powers say it is" (letter, 22 September). Well yes, they have said what it is in the form of the UN Charter and other international agreements, and it is not for one great power to ignore them. Having done so, the US will no doubt find that other nations may follow suit in the future. On Bush's reading of international law it would presumably be quite all right for Israel to be invaded on the grounds that it has not complied with UN resolutions, possesses WMD etc. Could China invade North Korea? Or is it only the US that is above the law?

Beckenham, Kent

Sir: Nick Martin-Clark dismisses the illegality of the invasion of Iraq on the basis that international law is, in the end, more or less what the great powers say it is. He goes on to say that the greatest threat to it comes from the ineffectiveness of its institutions, by which he presumably means great powers failing to impose their will resolutely on lesser powers.

He ends his letter with an appeal to "civilised values". However, on the basis of the preceding argument it is far from clear that we can still take these at face value. To many in the Islamic world it must now seem that we in the West make up our values, as we do the rules, to suit our own needs.

London SE21

Sir: As the situation in Iraq deteriorates, I feel that part of the problem is that ordinary Iraqis cannot distinguish the moral differences between the terrorist insurgents on the one hand and our boys in the field on the other. I suggest a publicity campaign to explain to Iraqi civilians that it is much better to be killed or maimed by one of our expensive high-tech bombs than by the cheap homemade kind favoured by the enemy.

London N9

Thrill of the chase

Sir: Stephen Hounsham (letter, 24 September) has missed the point in the ongoing furore about fox-hunting, a debate in which neither side is totally honest.

Hunting is not about killing for pleasure; the pleasure is not in the killing but in having a good excuse to get up early and ride around the countryside with a group of friends, with an objective. There has to be a goal to any sport; the fox has a mind of its own to be outwitted, and chasing a piece of moving paper would not be the same.

What annoys the anti-hunting lobby is that it is still considered by many to be a sport for the toffs. While there are undoubtedly some very smart hunts, a lot of hunting is very local - ordinary people who work on farms meeting on a weekday to have a good ride around.

The anti-hunting lobby is about liberal values applied on a selective basis. The way we treat the animals we eat is far more worrying: factory farming methods objected to in the Sixties still exist, and animals are moved quite unnecessary distances to be killed. Maybe if chickens were furry and cuddly they might have a lobby too.

London N5

Sir: How is the proposed ban on hunting to be enforced? Suppose I decide to put on a pink coat, get on my horse, invite a few friends to join me, and exercise my numerous hounds on my own land, possibly with a drag to chase; and suppose that, during the course of this outing, a fox appears and the hounds chase it and kill it. Although I am powerless to stop this happening I may deemed guilty of "hunting with dogs".

It may be argued that it will be the responsibility of the owners of hounds to "keep them under control" and stop them from killing wild animals; but this is what dogs do!

And what are the police to do? Are they to watch carefully every time people in pink coats gather together and ride off across some fields with a pack of dogs, in case they kill a fox? Or are they to arrest them beforehand for having a pack of hounds and for wearing pink coats - or will they arrest the dogs?

I do not support hunting, nor do I feel strongly about it being banned; but this law is, quite obviously, going to be unenforceable.

Maids Moreton, Buckinghamshire

Basic bank accounts

Sir: Pushing banks to do more to encourage households to open up no-frills basic bank accounts is a step towards financial inclusion (report, 20 September). But it is only half the solution.

Our research shows that people on low incomes have little trust in the financial services industry. They perceive banks as remote, alien environments where their business is not welcome. So a crucial part of encouraging wider take-up of bank accounts is to make it possible to open them - as well as operate them - at post offices. Post offices are well regarded by many of the 28 million who visit them every week and so are a natural conduit for marketing and delivering financial services.

And if government is serious about banks leading on the provision of basic accounts it must do more to encourage the financial services industry to promote their services better. Greater awareness among bank staff of the rules that allow easy opening of basic bank accounts is also needed.

Finally, people eligible for basic bank accounts need more joined-up and local provision of advice and support. The benefits agency, job centres, advice agencies and community groups need to work together to encourage people to take their first step into the financial world.

Deputy Director of Policy
National Consumer Council
London SW1

Sporting behaviour

Sir: I could not disagree more with Terence Blacker's article regarding David Beckham (24 September), in which he asserts that "it is absurd to expect those ... at the top level of sport to be great exemplars of correct behaviour".

While children will witness "injustice, hypocrisy and brutality" outside sport, that is no reason not to hold sportsmen to standards of absolute, as opposed to relative, morality - why else would the word "sporting" be an adjective describing honourable behaviour?

My understanding that W G Grace was one of the finest cricketers ever was tainted by learning of his underhand activities from Simon Rae's book It's Not Cricket; and my appreciation of the mercurial talent of Diego Maradona is soured by the fact that he was willing to cheat his way past England in that infamous 1986 World Cup match. Conversely, my adoration of Gary Lineker knows no bounds, not just for his deadly form in front of goal, but also because in a long career at the top of the game he was never booked.

Winning is one thing, but winning while adhering precisely to the rules is proof positive that you are better than the other parties involved; and despite Mr Blacker's assertion that "professionals misguidedly playing by Corinthian rules tend to come last", coming last with honour is much better than cheating to an ill-gotten first place.

Kettering, Northamptonshire

Religious understanding

Sir: What's the fuss over Popetown (letter, 25 September)? Those of us in religion can only mature and grow in commitment if we can take criticism and learn to laugh at ourselves. If criticism is unjust or jokes unseemly, they backfire.

Tintagel, Cornwall

Taxing holidays

Sir: As if Britons don't work hard enough and pay enough tax, now the Liberal Democrats want to tax aviation fuel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What this amounts to is a holiday tax. Can you think of a worse way to encourage people to care about the environment? Until Britain's environmental agendas embrace growth as the solution and not as the problem, environmental policy will always be the poor relation. And we will all be the poorer for it.

Director, Environmental Affairs
Stockholm Network
London N1

In the country

Sir: Lest any readers should be misled by Johann Hari's intrepid experience in rural Yorkshire (report, 25 September), may I point out that Long Marston is about a dozen miles equidistant from the cities of York and Leeds, and serves as a commuter village for both. Quintessentially rural it ain't.

West Yorkshire

On eggshells

Sir: When I buy eggs at a supermarket in the UK they're always brown. If you buy eggs in a supermarket in the US they're always white. Why is this?

Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Derby favourite

Sir: Those worried about the correct use of "huff" (letters, 21, 24 September) should come to Derbyshire, where their difficulties would disappear; here we are not "in a huff", but "in a mard". They would also be able to use the delightful noun "mard-arse" to refer to someone frequently displaying the condition.

Ashbourne, Derbyshire