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Fathers-4-Justice show why we ought to defend privacy

Posted by Paul Seaman in Campaigning / Politics / Privacy / Rights on 14 June 2008

Why we posted this: family breakdown is a serious problem in the UK. But when Fathers-4-Justice invade people’s privacy they remind us that openness can backfire.
The original story:
Protester still on Harman’s roof
BBC News
8 June 2008  
Summary of the story:
After two-years’ low profile, Fathers4Justice is stepping up the action. This time they entered the bedroom and scaled the roof of Harriet Harman, a cabinet minister and deputy head of the Labour Party. She was forced to abandon her house for a few days. The campaigners claimed the government had refused their requests for a meeting. They want the family courts opened up to public view and for Harriet Harman to read a book by Mark Harris on his struggle to win legal access to his three daughters.

livingissues comment:
F4J’s campaign of “Super Heroes dressed in tights” displays all the immaturity that got many families into trouble in the first place.

F4J are not quite terrorists. They are not even very frightening. But they depend on the apparatus of the state bending over backwards to keep them safe. Their sort of actions make it harder and trickier for security services to keep public figures safe. With every Tom, Dick and Harry invading Top People’s houses with impunity, it becomes easier for real terrorists to follow suit and even harder for police to know what kind of target they’re dealing with.  

At the level of harassment, such campaigns have published the addresses, phone numbers of judges they dislike. Yet, oddly, there is anger that MPs are hoping that they will be allowed to keep their home addresses secret. The more campaigners exert pressure like this, the more public figures will need privacy.

That is the precise opposite of what F4J are campaigning for.

They want the family courts to be more open. But more public scrutiny in this area is a big step. Privacy has traditionally been seen as protecting the defendants, plaintiffs and children in such emotional matters. Putting emotional bickering, claims and counterclaims in the public domain might damage family relationships and wider reputations even more than at present.

It does seem, however, that the courts have been too willing to deny access to fathers involved in access disputes. More accountability from judges is perhaps required. There may be a case for making access easier when one of the parents refuses to allow it – and making the process less litigious and fraught.

The solution is likely to come out of mature discussion and debate, not through dangerous stunts.

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