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Fathers 4 Justice

From Academic Kids

Fathers 4 Justice (sometimes abbreviated to F4J) is a campaigning group in the United Kingdom which works for fathers' rights. The group, reported by the BBC in March 2005 as "the world's fastest growing pressure group" [1] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/people_power/4319833.stm), has been responsible for several high-profile and sometimes disruptive demonstrations. In May 2004, The Times wrote that the group "has succeeded in becoming the most prominent "guerrilla" pressure group in Britain ... within eighteen months of its founding." Equally, The Guardian has commented that "the organisation has created an atmosphere of intimidation and fear" [2] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1222297,00.html). Although F4J policy has always been that its organised publicity stunts should be non-violent and hence harmless, those on the receiving end of such protests express that they feel violated by F4J actions, as is believed to be the intention.

On 6th June 2005, F4J's founder announced that it was suspending all existing UK operations and plans. [3] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1502264,00.html)

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Contents

Founding

The group was founded early in 2003 by Matt O'Connor. O'Connor is a marketing consultant and father of two children. He became involved in the fathers' rights movement after a court temporarily barred him from seeing his children outside contact centres, following his separation from his wife in 2000.

As of 2004, the group says it has 25,000 members but those figures are questionable. If one guages the number of civil disobedience actions and those who are conducting civil disobedience, it can be argued that the organization has perhaps fewer than 20 active members conducting protest actions, namely Jason Hatch and Jolly Stansby.

The group's Canadian branch was founded in 2004 and has yet to conduct an action that will make national headlines.

Aims of the movement

There are two key stated aims of the movement. The first is that something should be done "to enforce the will of Parliament", i.e. enforce existing law, with respect to father's rights. The relevant Act of Parliament is The Children Act of 1989 which states that the welfare of a child [with divorced parents] is paramount and that the welfare "is best served by maintaining as a good relationship with both parents as possible". The Fathers 4 Justice group says that in practice children of divorced parents often live with their mothers and often lose contact with their father. Although courts can make contact orders that oblige the resident parent to provide the other parent with time to spend with their children, these orders are often broken and according to the group, public officials often ignore these instances. It is this point which ignores the will of parliament, it says.

The second aim is to extend existing law to establish a "legal presumption of contact" between children and parents and grandchildren and grandparents.

F4J says it plans to publish a "Blueprint for Family Law in the 21st Century" with further specific proposals.

Methods

The group has used direct but non-violent means to try to further its cause. Since its founding in 2003 the group has used steadily more high-profile actions and in the process gathered media coverage. Whilst in many respects the campaign has been successful so far in that it has raised the profile of the issue to the extent that the Queen announced in November 2004 that there are to be legislative changes in this area; others have said that their actions are juvenile and even that some F4J members should be considered incapable of looking after their children.

One of the group's first campaigns involved demonstrating outside family court judges' houses in order to draw attention to the cause of its members. A subsequent demonstration involved members dressing as Easter Bunnies and congregating on the lawn of a hotel owned by a family court judge in Somerset in 2003. Another demonstration involved two bus loads of fathers dressed as Father Christmas descending on the family court's offices in London. One act of civil disobedience involved painting the entrances of the offices of CAFCASS purple. The colour is a frequent motif within the campaign as it was widely used by the Suffragettes with whom the group says it identifies. It also says it is the international colour of equality. In less savory, and perhaps less non-violent protests, include harassing a woman outside a family court, in 2003, and harassing a solicitor at his place of work, for actions deemed inappropriate by the group.

The board of CAFCASS was subsequently forced to resign by the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Falconer of Thoroton, following a select committee report (unrelated to the activities of fathers rights campaigners) on child welfare that sharply criticised the agency's methods.

Another stunt saw two members dressed as Batman and Robin scale the walls of the Royal Courts of Justice and unfurl banners. In July 2003 a further protest saw a father dress as Spider-Man and climb a crane. See Fathers 4 Justice Tower Bridge protest for details.

The group's most spectacular and, it has been suggested, irresponsible, protest took place on May 19 2004. That day two members of the group threw purple flour bombs at the Prime Minister during Prime Minister's Questions at the House of Commons. For details, see The Fun Powder Plot. This protest appeared to signal some departure from the group's mantra of nonviolence, since it can be argued that an assault on the person of the PM, and the fear induced in the chamber by this action, is of a violent nature. Other commentators have pointed out that, whilst perhaps seeming irresponsible, this action actually highlighted serious flaws in parliamentary security which would not have been noticed otherwise. Therefore, it can be argued, the world is a safer place as a result.

Other protests have taken place in Liverpool, Bristol, Worcester, Newcastle Upon Tyne and Manchester. Each occasion involved group members dressing as superheroes. The group says it chose the theme because "fathers have the role of superhero in the lives of children". Since June 2004, women supporters too have adopted similar disguises and joined in the protests, indicating that the cause that F4J represents is not an exclusively male preoccupation. On 10 September 2004 a F4J member dressed as Spider-Man occupied the London Eye for sixteen hours, while on 13 September a member dressed as Batman succeeded in reaching the ledge adjacent to the balcony at the front of Buckingham Palace. For details, see Fathers 4 Justice Buckingham Palace protest. A similar protest by a F4J member dressed as Robin the Boy Wonder was held for twelve hours on the Pattullo Bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on 25 September 2004. On the morning of December 25 2004, a group of F4J protestors who intended to stage a stunt to prevent the Royal Family's Christmas Day Church service in Sandringham were intercepted and detained. On May 6, 2005 the group made headlines after a F4J member dressed as Superman climed up scaffolding in Old City Hall in Toronto,Ontario and unfurling a banner.

O'Connor has said that if reform is not precipitated by the protests that F4J coordinates then he can't guarantee that others wouldn't adopt a more militant approach, such as the Black Shirts (http://www.blackshirts.info/) have done in Australia. In this regard O'Connor has compared himself to Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

O'Connor has claimed that the fathers' rights movement is itself held up by more moderate campaigners than he. Whilst some are simply pleased to see that fathers' rights seems to have gone up the public agenda (thanks, in part, to the efforts of F4J) and that government ministers are prepared to talk about reform, O'Connor is not supporting the early intervention reforms being proposed (see external link from The Guardian). He is concerned about the immediate problem of broken contact orders, and argues that mothers who won't even keep to court orders are hardly likely to go quietly to mediation and parenting classes when requested.

Supporters of F4J have pointed out that there's no reason why the government shouldn't crack down on intransigent parents at the same time as starting initiatives calculated to prevent problems arising in the first place. O'Connor has also questioned the wisdom of increasing the budget for contact centres, which the government has done, arguing that this will just mean more fathers having to use the centres when mothers demand it, rather than enjoying greater freedom with their children. (Of course, many frown upon the gendered presumptions made in these kinds of claims. It is certainly not only women who make demands of the family courts, though mothers 'demands' are usually the only ones that result in fathers being requested to engage in supervised access.)

Sir Bob Geldof, of Live Aid fame and a candidate for Parliament, supports Fathers for Justice calling them heroic after critics attack their leadership (http://www.contactmusic.com/new/xmlfeed.nsf/mndwebpages/geldof%20blasts%20critics%20of%20fathers%20for%20justice).

See also

External links

In the news

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On December 17th 2002, Fathers 4 Justice stages its first demonstration - a raid on the offices of the Lord Chancellor's Department by 200 Father Christmases campaigning to 'Save Father Christmas'. An hour long occupation of the lobby ended when Amanda Finlay, Director of Public and Private Rights for the UK accepted a Christmas on behalf of the Lord Chancellor from F4J which showed him dressed as Scrooge.


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