Thursday, 2 August 2001

Parents take access fight to judge's home .

DIVORCED or separated parents fighting for access to their children took their protests to the Seend home of a senior judge at the weekend.

About 35 parents holding placards took part in a demonstration outside the home of Lord Justice Mathew Thorpe, one of the country's most senior appeal judges on Saturday afternoon.

The parents had come from London, Cambridge, Plymouth, Bristol and Wiltshire. They have all been battling with the courts for access to their children.

As they stood outside the driveway to Lord Justice Thorpe's house they shouted "children need both parents."

Protest organiser Mark Harris, and Tony Coe, both members of the Equal Parenting Council, knocked on the judge's front door to deliver letters outlining the concerns felt by parents about the way family courts are run.

In the drive was a white L-registered Volvo 440 car. The shutters on both ground floor windows were drawn. No one answered the door so Mr Coe posted the letters through the judge's letter box.

The protest continued for a few minutes outside the drive and as the protesters dispersed, two police cars pulled up, but there was no trouble.

Lord Justice Thorpe had been invited to the Bell Inn in Seend to discuss the problems, but he did not attend.

Mr Coe, the president of the Equal Parenting Council, said that family courts were not carrying through the ruling contained in the 1989 Children's Act that parenting should be shared.

He said: "The key point is that one parent is being excluded for no good reason. If there is abuse or violence going on then of course there should be limitation of the parent's role, but we are talking about ordinary, loving, devoted parents that are being excluded from their children's life.

"Why is it that one parent has all the say? The other parent has the right to make an application to the court but the other parent can keep saying no and it can go on for months and years.

"If the system doesn't value the other parent (the parent who is not living with the children) then the children will think that. From the point of separation we need to treat the parents equally. "

Mr Coe dubbed the protests outside judges' homes the "judicial education programme." He added: "Not everybody agrees with the approach we are taking and I fully understand that view.

"But we have to make these people feel a little uncomfortable because the process makes our lives and our children's lives uncomfortable."

Richard Day, a 50-year-old father of two teenage daughters, has been fighting with the Child Support Agency and the courts for the past seven years. He says as a result he has suffered financially and emotionally and sees his daughters no more than twice a year.

Mr Day, of Market Lavington, said: "The Child Support Agency trebled the maintenance payable to my ex-wife for my daughters and each time I have appealed to the courts they have totally ignored the situation and have done nothing to encourage positive parenting. I think we should be looking at a public inquiry.

"We are reasonably minded people. We want what is best for our children and we need the system to be doing the same. If judges are not doing their jobs properly they should be sacked."

Lord Justice Thorpe, 62, has been an appeal judge in the family division of the High Court since October 1995.

His first marriage ended in divorce in 1989 and he remarried in the same year. He has three sons.

He was unavailable for comment about the protest outside his home in Seend.

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