General Matters

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:40 pm on 21st December 2010.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire 5:40 pm, 21st December 2010

We can learn a lot from countries such as Australia, which has a much more shared parenting approach, uses much more mediation and is generally more successful.

Another of my constituents is a young father who has a valid contact order in place. He previously had full custody of his little girl. He is not in any way dangerous-indeed, he is a devoted dad. He last saw his daughter in July. She cries out when she sees him and her grandmother in the local shopping centre, longing to be with him. He has tried since July to get a court date to see her before Christmas, but that has not been possible. He left my surgery in tears after I had updated him on what the family court service had said about his case.

Another constituent also had a valid contact order and on 21 June, the Monday after fathers' day, he received a text to say that the mother of his child had disappeared, leaving no address. Even after a court seek-and-find procedure, no address was provided. A first court date was set in a court a long way away from where my constituent lives, but it was adjourned. When the case did get into court on 4 October, the proceedings were shambolic, the judge was not well briefed and the appropriate file was not there. The case was adjourned again until 30 November and, on 28 November, the mother succeeded in getting that hearing adjourned, as-allegedly-a medical report on the child was not ready. When my extremely persistent constituent finally got the case into court earlier this month, he found that the medical report was dated 18 November and had been available for the earlier court hearing, but of course there was no sanction on the mother. The courts allow difficult parents to deprive their children of a relationship with their father.

I am proud to be an MP for a Government who are radical and reforming in many ways, and I put it to the House that we need radical reform of the family justice system. We need a system that is much less winner takes all, less confrontational and less expensive; and we need a system that provides proper enforcement of court-sanctioned contact orders.