Denise Robertson: Judges in the Family Courts are supposed to listen to children. Too many don't

Journal columnist and TV personality Denise Robertson on the injustice and unfairness that invade too many cases in the Family Courts

Scales of justice
Scales of justice

One of the many myths that circulate around the Family Courts is that children are listened to once they are old enough. The age usually mentioned is 12.

So why am I dealing with two distracted mothers whose sons, 12 and 14, are not being listened to at all?

Both boys have been ordered to reside with their fathers. Neither wants to do that.

One has run away umpteen times and pleaded his case to no avail. Both mothers are blameless characters. One lost her child because she was always the breadwinner, he the house-husband.

When they split he got the child. Both mothers have to pay the fathers child support. Both want their sons to keep in contact with their father. So why are the children being ignored?

Perhaps it all depends on which judge you get. Recently, one judge was accused of being “gratuitously rude” when he told a 13-year-old girl that her case was “codswallop”.

All she was asking for was a DNA test to determine her true paternity but the judge wasn’t minded to give it to her, saying “If the child had told her legal representatives that the moon was made of green cheese, would they have answered ‘yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full’.”

He went on to state that the lunatics had truly taken over the asylum, and just because the lunatics said they wanted something did not mean that they should be spoon fed.

He told the child that she “might want to put on her crash helmet” for his decision, stating that he was minded to make her pay for the test herself – despite the Legal Aid Agency already agreeing to cover the cost. All this in the so-called Family Court. Not much listening there.

:: Many moons ago, I was a volunteer delivering Meals on Wheels. I did it for 10 years. We collected the food from the pit canteen and transported it in a WVS van.

I carried a vacuum jug of gravy and another of custard and occasionally the meat got a custard topping or the pudding a nice dash of gravy.

I loved my elderly clients, even those who didn’t have their one and nine ready because they’d put it on a horse.

We also did things like alerting doctors and making sure all was well and I’ve always seen Meals on Wheels as a vital community service.

The WRVS are still active but across the country there is now considerable variation in eligibility, meal provision, delivery and cost. Some receive frozen meals delivered weekly or fortnightly. Some are told where a private meal delivery service can be contacted.

All this reduces human interaction for vulnerable older people. Reportedly, 19% of people aged 65 years and over have contact less than once a week with their friends or family. I’ve been looking at what is on offer and last week I went on a round in Newcastle, one of the few authorities still providing an in-house hot meal.

If I’d been rating what I saw that day on a scale of 1 to 10 I’d have given it 12. The food was freshly cooked, piping hot and delicious. For £3 they got a main course….that day lasagne….a fruit drink and a choice of hot or cold pudding.

All of them adored ‘the meals lady’, Bev, a totally dedicated employee. She provides that vital link with the outside world. I wish that service could be replicated nationwide.

:: The picture was stark, a rubble-strewn city, shards of masonry pointing upwards, mute testimony to death and destruction.

The caption underneath said ‘Dresden’ but it could equally have been Coventry or London or one of the other cities flattened in WW2.

Last week people seemed to queue to criticise Bomber Command – which lost 55,573 of its members in action – and the British government because of its assault on Dresden. A British ex-POW was very vocal, accusing his country of finishing up worse than Nazi Germany.

Do I deplore the deaths in Dresden? Of course I do.

But I also remember that, if it had not been for the people who started the war, Dresden and Coventry... would stand unblemished.

And the people who started it weren’t British.


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