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Minister for Inequality

Date:7 SEP 2015
Am I the only family lawyer who has a problem with Caroline Dinenage's ministerial portfolio that covers Women, Equalities and Family Justice?

Her women and equalities responsibilities include women and the economy; women on boards; and reducing the pay gap: challenging cultural stereotypes and stopping violence against women and girls.

And she's also the Minister for Family Justice? So how does that work with her role, for example, of stopping violence against women and girls, but not against men and boys?

She's also the minister responsible for family mediation. Are there any two roles where impartiality is more important than judge or mediator (not that they're interchangeable, of course)? Family mediation is lazily regarded by some as a viable replacement for access to the family court. While there's still a Matrimonial Causes Act and a Children Act, it's not an option for our legislators (including junior ministers) to behave as if there's something wrong with asking for access to a demonstrably and and impartial court system. If the father or mother of your children is threatening to move with them to Australia on a permanent basis and you're facing the possibility that you may never see them again, then mediation is unlikely to be the solution. You'll want the option of a determination from a skilled, experienced and impartial judge whose judgment will be respected, if not necessarily welcomed.

So I repeat: how will Caroline Dinenage combine her role as champion for women with that of guardian of the principles enshrined in our legal system? A cynic might say that our family courts, for all the admirable neutrality of the wording of our statutes, already exhibit a bias towards women. So what's new? I think it's fair to say Ms Dinenage's appointment would not have been met with the resounding silence it's received had she been given the dual roles of Minister for Family Justice and Minister for Men. Taking up the cudgels, so to speak, for men who are victims of domestic violence? Or the appalling condition in men's - but not women's - prisons? Or the worrying gap in educational achievements between boys and girls? Or the high suicide rate amongst middle-aged men? But there isn't a minister for men's issues, so that could never happen.

Imagine how you would feel as a man who's been a victim of domestic violence for many years, but has felt too ashamed to tell anyone. You've reached the point where you can go on no longer and want to get away. The minute you start looking into the possibility of getting a court order that might offer some protection, you discover that the minister in charge of the court is only on the side of women and, explicitly, women who are victims of domestic violence. You're already fearful that you're not going to be believed, and then you find out that the Minister for Family Justice is charged with the responsibility of stopping violence against women and girls.

Can I really be the only family lawyer who thinks this is complete madness?

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.