ordeal of Mark Harris, the father sent to Pentonville prison for ten months
for waving to his children, is not an aberration. It is part of a growing
international trend whereby fathers (and sometimes mothers) have been
arrested for sending their children birthday cards, calling them on the
telephone, or seeing them in church.
Last year a father in New Hampshire
was beaten to death by jail guards after being incarcerated without trial for
allegedly missing a child support hearing of which his family claims he was
never notified. A father in British Columbia was evicted from his home, cut
off from his children, and ordered to pay more than twice his income in child
and spousal support plus court costs for a divorce to which his
never consented. He hanged himself from a tree. A mother in Massachusetts
was recently told by social workers to divorce her husband or they
would take away her children, and they did. In the same state a
fathers' rights activist claims he was dragged from his car and beaten by
what appeared to be plainclothes police and told to stop making trouble
for the courts or he would never see his son again.
These cases are
the tip of a huge iceberg. In the United States, Canada, Australia, and
beyond both fathers and mothers are losing their children in large numbers
and turned into outlaws. They are subjected to questioning about their
private lives that attorney Jed Abraham has termed an "interrogation" and
incarcerated without trial. They are jailed for failing to pay lawyers and
psychotherapists they never hired for services they never sought. Their
children are taught to hate them with the backing of government officials and
used as informers against them.
Why is this happening?
to basic principles of free government, family courts operate largely behind
closed doors and without record of their proceedings. The secrecy ostensibly
protects family privacy, though more often it provides a cloak to invade
family privacy with impunity. "The family court is the most powerful branch
of the judiciary," writes a prominent American judge. "The power of family
court judges is almost unlimited." American Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas
once characterized them with the term "kangaroo court."
sit at the nexus of a powerful network of lawyers, psychotherapists, social
workers, bureaucratic police, and others. Recalling Dickens's observation
that "the one great principle of the law is to make business for itself," it
may not be overly cynical to suggest that judges and their entourage have a
vested interest in separating children from their parents.
courts routinely ignore basic civil liberties and international human rights
conventions. "Your job is not to become concerned about the constitutional
rights of the man that you're violating as you grant a restraining order,"
American municipal court judge Richard Russell told a judges' training
seminar in 1994. "Throw him out on the street, give him the clothes on his
back and tell him, see ya around. . . . We don't have to worry about the
Family law is now criminalizing activity as basic as free
speech. In Australia it is a crime for litigants to speak publicly about
family law. A Sydney group protesting peacefully in 1998 was told "if
any people who had any involvement with family court were identified
the media and that person would be prosecuted to the fullest extent" of
the law. As in Britain, Australian family courts have closed Internet
sites operated by parents' groups.
In some American jurisdictions it
is likewise a crime to criticise judges. The former husband of singer Wynonna
Judd was recently arrested for speaking to reporters about his divorce. A
father protesting outside his Los Angeles home on Fathers' Day 1998 that he
had not seen his son in more than two years was apprehended by police for a
"psychiatric evaluation". Following his congressional testimony critical of
family courts, a Georgia father was stripped of custody of his two
children, ordered to pay lawyers he had not hired, and jailed. "We believe
the court is attempting to punish [him] for exposing the court's
misconduct to a congressional committee," said the president of a local
Family courts are now politicized by ideological
agendas and attack citizens ' groups for exercising their political rights.
The Australia Family Court publishes a book attacking fathers' groups as "a
concerted lobby of disaffected individuals". In 1998 the court's Chief
Justice publicly declared them a "sinister element". In a paper funded by the
US Justice Department, the National Council of Juvenile and Family
Court Judges, an association of ostensibly impartial judges who sit on
actual cases, attacks "dangerous" fathers' groups for their political
opinions and "values" and their belief "that divorce is always harmful
The words "divorce" and "custody" sound deceptively
innocuous. We should remind ourselves that they involve bringing the penal
system into the home for use against family members. Once we thus marshal the
state apparatus there is no reason to assume it will stop where we want it
to. "When they've taken away the fathers," warns Irish Times columnist
John Waters, "they'll take away the mothers."
a professor of political science at Howard University in Washington, is
spokesman for Men, Fathers, and Children International, a coalition of
fatherhood groups from 9 countries, and serves on the board of Gendercide
Watch, a human rights organization that monitors gender-selective
Sunday Independent stories about Britain's family courts
are to be included in a new book.
American writer Nicholas Kourakos
has requested copies of articles on Mark Harris and last weeks story on Alex
Newman and father Pat Punch, who she had not seen for 32 years until two
weeks ago, for inclusion in the publication he is currently
Nicholas explained: I'm writing a book about how the English
speaking countries need judicial reform.
"This is because throughout
the English World - every country that was an English colony - there is a law
that says that judges can't be investigated in their decisions. So, this
gives them the privilege to abuse the laws.
"We should be a government
by the people and for the people, not a government by the judges and for the
He continued: "fathers here in the states receive the same abuse
as the men in England. "There has to be judicial reform across the
English speaking world".
Nicholas was just one of the
people across the globe who contacted us in response to stories about the
family courts which have featured in the Sunday Independent throughout
Just this week we received letters and emails from as far afield
as Western Australia, America and Canada, supporting Mark Harris
and calling for reforms in Britains legal system.
President of The Children's Voice group in Oakvile, Canada, said: "As an
organisation advocating to children's rights, specially their right to have
an equal.meaningful and permanent relationship with both of their parents
after separation or divorce, in most cases, we would like to express our
complete shock about the justice system in Britain.
"Jailing a father
for waving hello to his children is nothing else but political
While Lynn Bentz, of Kamloops in Canada, said: "We are
having the same difficulties here in Canada regarding children losing access
to one parent, usually fathers, after separation and divorce.
a terrible, terrible thing for a child and often they never heal from it.
"Please, please continue to bring this problem to the attention of the
reading public. It is vitally important."
People in Britain have also
been quick to come forward with their comments.
The Wright family, of
Lancashire, said: "You are to be congratulated.
wonder the judiciary are falling into disrepute when on the day Mark Harris
was jailed for ten months a child sex offender here in the Northwest was
sentenced to only eight months.
"Society needs to realise that not only
do parents lose their children - don't think it won't happen to you - but
grandparents, and other relatives in the extended family, lose contact as
"It is probably the most common form of child abuse in Britain
today to deny the child half of his or her
than 200 write to man fined and put in prison for saying "hello" to his own
by Kirsty Turner
More than 200 Sunday Independent readers
have helped raise the spirits of jailed dad Mark Harris.
flooded in to London's Pentonville Prison after we revealed how mark was
jailed for ten months and fined £500 for saying "hello" to his children and
breaking injunctions restricting his contact with them.
driving instructor from Plymouth said: "It's great. It lifts your spirits and
makes you realise how unjust it is when normal people see the unfairness of
"Nearly all of the letters started off with, "I read about your
story in the Sunday Independent," and I would just like to thank all your
readers for their support."
Mark's supporters have even
telephoned the prison governor and the judge who sentenced him to express
But one particular letter touched mark more than any
The father of three explained: "I got one letter from an older
lady who just called herself Vi. She sent me a postal order for £2 out of
her pension and told me to get something for myself to keep my spirits up.
I would like to say a special thank you to her."
Mark is now trying to
respond to all the people who included in their addresses in the
The Sunday Independent first highlighted Mark's plight earlier
this month when we revealed how he was refusing to eat or drink in protest
at his sentence.
Mark broke his protest for the sake of his children
after a week and is now almost fully recovered from the affects of his hunger
At the height of his demonstration Mark's blood
pressure became dangerously high and he had trouble seeing and
He also threatened to commit suicide at the earliest opportunity
and was placed in a constant observation unit. But Mark is now feeling
more positive about his situation and is awaiting a decision on his call
for bail pending his planned appeal.
Speaking exclusively to the
Sunday Independent from Pentonville this week; he said: "I'm doing OK. All
the letters and support are really keeping me