Friday, September 28, 2007

Superheroes or Villains?

I have been looking at the web site of the American fathers' rights group Fathers-4-Justice® US (F4J™ US). The group (which is quite separate from the UK organisation of the same name) says that it was established in March 2005 in Minnesota and that it "has since steam-rolled across the country as a 100% volunteer army of Superhero mothers, fathers, grandparents and others who have answered the call to defend the millions of American families who suffer at the hands of domestic judges, attorneys, social workers and other profiteers engaged in child custody matters." (I am not sure how much American social workers are paid, but if it is anything like the amount social workers receive in this country then the word 'profiteers' is somewhat inappropriate - I could say the same for legal aid lawyers.) The F4J US mission statement says that its members are "dedicated to fighting for truth, justice and the American way (sorry, couldn't resist) equality in America’s family law system", and its grievances seem to be remarkably similar to those of fathers' rights groups in this country.

This set me thinking about fathers' rights groups generally:

  • Are they just a group of angry people who would be dissatisfied with any system, unless it gave them exactly what they wanted?

  • Is there a fundamental problem shared by the English, US and, probably, other systems?

  • Is there really a better way, or is there simply no answer - i.e. in any system there will be parents who will think that they have been unfairly treated?
[I am open to suggestions for further options.]

25 comments:

  1. Good questions, John. First: This American group is another copy-cat organisation like the British so-called Real FFJ. The 'official' US website is here: http://fathers-4-justice.org/f4j//index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=34&Itemid=65

    Second: in answer to your three questions, (i) I wasn't angry before I got shafted by the family courts, (ii) yes, and (iii) you'll never know until you try.

    There are common features to all the legal systems which have prompted fathers' rights groups to form. This is probably because we share a common legal heritage, and because we have other cultural features - such as feminism - in common. We have also experienced huge social changes with which the legal systems have failed to keep up.

    Can we do better? Take a look at the F4J Blueprint which suggests one way - I'm sure there are others - in which the family justice system could be improved. Some improvements are obvious; child support arrangements are manifestly unjust, and governments want CS to do too many things - solve child poverty, reduce the benefits bill - that the basic task of supporting a child is forgotten. I think family justice has lost its way and is so concerned with keeping families apart that it's forgotten it may be more important to hold them together. Which raises the question: what is family justice actually for? At the start of the 20th Century lawyers here were unconvinced that an adversarial court system was the best place to resolve family issues; 2 or 3 generations later it is a question which needs to be asked again.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, and for the link to the 'official' US website. I've read the F4J Blueprint previously, and think it makes some interesting suggestions. As for your point about the adversarial system, I almost made this myself - it is a fundamental point that receives too little consideration.

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  3. John,

    with regard to the adversarial system, do you want to cross-reference to your "bad penny" section?

    As far as the current post is concerned, any individual exposed to a "broad-brush" system, such as the CSA uses, is going to gain or lose depending upon their personal circumstances. Fathers (it is primarily fathers, for obvious reasons) complain vocally about their individual injustices - with good reason, one suspects, on an idividual basis. However, the question of "fathers' rights" and complaints about mothers not allowing contact does need to be considered in the wider context. How many mothers have the opportunity to complain about fathers who disappoint their children by not keeping to the contact arrangements made? What voice do these women have?
    The upset for both resident and non-resident parents is often a consequence of the system using a broad-brush approach, and the fact that a group of men are particularly vocal should highlight that, and not disguise it.

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  4. Good points. As for the adversarial system, I'm sure it gives more opportunities for bad practice by lawyers than an inquisitorial system would (if that was your point).

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  5. In my experience the current system is very pro contact with the non resident parent and even after a Re L hearing with findings will try not to rule it out! There are opportunities for mediation and I have had CAFCASS officers offer round table meetings which have been very successful. Most parties I deal with appear to take a pro active role in trying to settle disputes as fairly as possible. I have also dealt with some very frightened women and children and had contact ordered which went very badly wrong!! One family judge commented on Radio 4 that he will never be the same again after hearing a 999 transcript of a child screaming "daddy please don't kill mummy". Some of the characters from F4J use bullying tactics against those who disagree with them and simply make others like me think their children might be scared of them too.....

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  6. Hi Lynne. My experience has been similar. You are also of course entirely correct in pointing out that there is another side to the story - the experiences of the 'custodial' parent. As for the tactics of some F4J members, I'm sure they can be counter-productive.

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  7. Off we go again: "there's nothing wrong with family law so fathers' rights campaigners must all be violent, intimidating bullies". We've been accused of violence from the start of the campaign, no doubt because the same allegations are so effective in court and because those who make the allegations have no other arguments to use. The truth is that nothing has ever been proved, and that doesn't surprise me. I've been on the F4J internet forum, tonight, and you know what, Lynne? It's full of the most human, compassionate people I know giving patient, constructive advice freely and tirelessly to those who desperately need it. That's what we spend most of our time doing, not making unsubstantiated allegations, not making gender biased generalisations. These are good men and women; they don't scare their children or murder them, they just try to undo some of the damage done by the less scrupulous.

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  8. "simply make others like me think their children might be scared of them too...."

    As one of those characters from F4J if you are saying my child might be scared of me get the social service the NSPCC childline to stop your alledged "abuse". As far as I am aware is this not your duty then put your money were your mouth is and stop these riduculas accusations, a bit difficult you being involved in Family law, if you dont like that comment take me to court.

    Barry Gaynor

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  9. Hi Barry. Thanks for the comment. Lynne was of course only referring to some F4J members, not all. The problem is that some members do behave in ways that are unacceptable, and they have to understand that this will lead others quite naturally to doubt their suitability as parents.

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  10. Lynne - I have heard similar on tape from children whose mothers are violent and are still the Custodial parent.

    Amazingly violent mothers who attack fathers are still considered fit to look after children and are still given custody of the children.

    Violent mothers should be as unacceptable as violent fathers.

    The bottom line is that women are just as likely to be the perpetrators of Domestic Violence as men.

    BUT it is only abuse by men that is taken seriously in this perverse system.

    So many children suffer horrendously because their custodial parent is an abusive mother.

    Abusive mothers are far more likely to deny a child a relationship with its father as well, because of their power and control issues.

    The Courts and social services are extremely wary of upsetting a mother even if she has a history of violence towards partners.

    Suffer the little children.

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  11. I agree that violence by mothers should not be tolerated, any more than violence by fathers.

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  12. John, it is good to hear your thoughtful replies. I email as an absent parent (no contact for 5 years now), where our child was desperate to live with me because of the maternal abuse (hitting and emotional). I was quite shocked at the response from the statutory agencies, including:
    -When our child as an infant complained to teacher, teacher initially reported the comments to mother who gave our child an even more uncomfortable time because teacher had been told. When the teacher realised the error, a referral was made to Social Services who refused to consider the referral from the school. As a result of teacher reporting to mother, trust of teachers was destroyed and our child refused to consider opening up to a teacher later.
    -During interviews in preparation of evidence for some of the legal proceedings, our child again reported the maternal abuse, and was severely reprimanded for these reports by the interviewing Court Welfare Officer. He described our child as quite forthright in expressing these views, but his questioning of me followed a script where the carefully prepared questions were repeated verbatim if the resulting answer did not meet his agenda (to confirm that my ex was an angel, his declared term), our child also complained extensively of his inability to rephrase questions that were not understood by our child.
    -Our child was often very distressed by the maternal abuse, at one point started expressing suicidal wishes. Our child appreciated the possibility of a therapist to talk to about her experiences. We went to 3 therapeutic sessions, the first two as general experience and to ensure comfort all round, the 3rd with our child solo in the therapy room. The therapist contacted Social Service as soon as they were open to make a referral having seen bruising and been given reports of mild concussion from some of the abuse. Again Social Services refused to consider the possibility that the mother may be abusing our child, not even turning up for an arranged meeting to review our child's reports, eventually the therapist referred the matter to the Police. A female Police Officer visited my home, unannounced, with one of the case Social Workers, where I was threatened with criminal proceedings if I pursued the referral further, and the Police Officer allowed the Social Worker to almost scream a very personal, unprofessional and insupportable tirade at me. This report then came up in the following Court proceedings where the therapist was discredited in preference to consider the possibility the a woman could be violent.

    As a result, I fear that the abuse has continued. Our child's last school report described our child as stressed, anxious, morose and having very low self esteem, traits that would not surprise with my ex's 'parenting style'.

    Through out the extensive proceedings over our child, my ex was treated with great respect, her merest whim was treated as concrete unchallengable evidence (such as a personal letter from her closest friend), and any documented evidence I produced was treated as mere allegations that need not be given any credibility (the therapist probably the weakest evidence offered). The legal team appeared to be unfazed by the bias, as though this was quite normal. It would therefore appear that there is a deep ingrained bias against fathers within the legal system. It would appear to me that the Judges only rubber stamp the recommendations of the statutory bodies preparing evidence, and do not challenge them in any way. I am concerned that cutting fathers out out children's lives does extensive damage, this is supported by studies appearing to show this damage. The adversarial system is criticised on this blogg, I suspect that mediation would be more constructive, with a focus on the child maintaining a parental relationship with both parents, I was near to that for the first few years of separation, I think that shared parenting should be the starting point, with the provisos about violence and abuse, that in our case should have led to our child being predominantly resident here.

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  13. The fundamental problem we have in ALL of the English speaking nations and in many other non-Muslim nations is this: Divorce practice is the easiest way for a lawyer to earn a living. Nothing needs to be proven but allegations and accusations are fine for playing the game. The practice favors the female in most cases because, while men are hard wired to try to make a bad situation work and fix the problems, women are not always so oriented. Either a woman is happy or not. If she is not happy, then Chris Rock is right, it is impossible for ANY man to make her happy, except her divorce lawyer and the family court judge. Such women can bedevil their men with screaming fits and mood swings and irrational demands, not to mention the expectation to spend beyond the family income. I know I am generalizing, but it is a fact that most petitioners for divorce are female. Most breadwinners are male.

    And that is why the family law practice is what it is around the planet. Not just in Boston, Massachusetts or Boston, Lincolnshire. If divorce practice usually favors the female, then the wives can see petitioning as a low risk gamble. This tends to increase the number of divorces filed and decreases the number of wives willing to work things out and be reasonable. Any college economics professor will verify this. And if the practice is no-fault, meaning no due process of law, then it is just an exercise in fleecing the male breadwinner for fun and profit.

    Which profits the lawyers and when they become judges they make it easy for divorce lawyers to fleece these male breadwinners.

    When they run for and win election to legislative or executive office, again, they make it easy for divorce lawyers to fleece these male breadwinners.

    Now, people ask me why I make such a big deal about the American 13th Amendment and the Antipeonage Act. And I get frustrated when so few American fathers rights people are willing to take the stand I take.

    Here is the reason: What we are talking about is the basic difference between freedom and slavery. Which is: the right to say NO. I will not do what you demand of me.

    The mistake people make is that because the children are ordinarily dependent upon their parents, this justifies forcing the parents to obey "court orders" without regard to how these parents are treated. When these parents find the "no one will listen to a word they have to say" that is because when you are not recognized as having the right to say "no", and you are not willing to say "no" and STAND ON THAT POSITION, there is simply no incentive to listen to anything else you have to say.

    That is it in a nutshell.

    For the non-wealthy, non-powerful, the right to say "NO, I will not do what you demand of me!" is the ONLY guarantee of decent treatment and good faith dealing there is and ever was.

    It is also why extortion, particularly state sponsored extortion, is such an evil thing. Those being extorted sometimes react badly.

    Such as: 1) refusing to work to pay child support 2) constantly pleading the 13th Amendment and the Antipeonage Act or whatever equivalent laws may exist in their nation 3) putting on a Batman constume and standing on the Queen's ledge 4) Declaring independence from the British Empire 5) Tearing up the Bastille, guillotining the king and queen and much of the population, inventing a new system of weights and measures 6) and all kinds of other mischief such as yelling "I am Sparticus" when the only one who isn't is Sparticus!

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  14. In response to the last two comments-

    Anonymous: Many thanks for your thought-provoking story.

    Roger: Thank you as well - some pretty forthright views!

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  15. Solicitor Bolch - A friend in the UK has just pointed me to this blog of yours, so I hope that it's not too late for me to respond in turn.

    1) Regarding the charge that F4J is just a group of angry people who won't like any system that doesn't give them exactly what they want: What F4J wants is justice, equality and freedom from discrimination. As such, yes, F4J will be dissatisfied with any system that does not yield those things. As for anger, well, prejudice, miscarriage of justice and the unnecessary destruction of family relationships are things that can indeed make people angry - and they should.

    2) "Is there a fundamental problem shared by the English and the US?" Yes. It's called prejudice.

    3) "Is there really a better way - or will there be parents who think they've been unfairly treated no matter what changes are made to the system?" There is a better way. It's called "blind justice," i.e., the practice of making judicial decisions without regard to the genitalia of the litigants.

    The same kinds of questions were asked during the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1950's and 1960's. Does the fact that there are some people who think it's unfair to require all-white public schools to allow black children in mean there can be no better system than racially segregated schools?

    There is a better way to do things: Stop practicing discrimination. In the family court context, that means recognizing the equal value of the maternal and the paternal relationship. The starting point in family court, therefore, should be joint custody, not outdated gender role stereotypes in which the mother alone is cast as the nurturer, and fathers are treated as having no value at all except as money-makers. Sure, there will be people who will not be happy about losing the benefit of gender stereotypes. Fairness, though, is not about protecting the special privileges a particular class enjoys as a result of the operation of stereotypes and prejudices.

    Moreover, even apart from considerations of fairness, family law is supposed to be about doing what's best for children. It shouldn't be about ensuring that one or the other parent will always get everything he or she wants.

    Regarding the claim that the www.f4j.us web site is not the "official" site of F4J, I’ll point out that the site actually is the official web site of the US-based Fathers4Justice organization. The US organization is incorporated in the US; it has its principal office in the US; it's a recognized 501c3 organization; it is authorized to do business in the US; it owns the registered trademarks and the exclusive rights to use the names Fathers4Justice and F4J in the United States; and none of the above is true of any other organization. Contrary to what some might say, I don’t think that you can get any more official than that. At the same time, we are growing by leaps and bounds with full accountability, transparency, and 100% volunteerism.

    Incidentally, I am not here here to promote "the American way" with you, as surely as I hope that you are not here to defend the British way that I observed in a movie last week called "The Wind That Shakes The Barley". Sorry - couldn't resist.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Jamil (and Gabriel) Jabr

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  16. Many thanks Jamil - always good to get a comment from one of the colonies! ;-)

    Seriously, I'm grateful to you for your input, particularly regarding the starting-point in family proceedings, and the F4J US web site.

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  17. John - Further to earlier comment and Roger's comments. Shared parenting is always promoted with the caveat of as long as it is safe for the child. I considered adding an observation that has come to light since my own extensive proceedings, with the increasing research opportunities of the web. One post on one of the F4J type forums indicated (can't find the citation) that on average, about 2% of people suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder, with a preponderance of women in their middle age suffering. Bit of digging for stats led to the conclusion that the number of children deprived of a father would suggest that the prevalence of mothers creating this problem is not far from those suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder; certainly in my case, the description of the BPD is one of the best descriptions of my ex I have seen, unlike any other women I have known (fatherhood came late in life for me). Perhaps then one of the difficulties faced by family law is that it is a vehicle for disturbed people to express their anger, with the unfortunate consequence that by granting exclusive residence of children to a disturbed person, that the children are drawn into similar conditions by the resulting abuse, creating dysfunctional groups in society. This would be a trend, I am sure there are many examples of upstanding citizens coming from broken homes and vice versa, however, I am sure that there would be a strong trend, if you take the following for example:

    "Children from fatherless homes account for;
    63% of youth suicides.
    (US Dept. of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Census)
    71% of pregnant teenagers.
    (US Dept. of Health and Human Services)
    90% of all homeless and runaway children.
    (US Dept. of Health and Human Services)
    70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions.
    (US Dept. of Justice, Special Report Sept. 1988)
    85% of all adolescents with behavior disorders.
    (Center for Disease Control)
    80% of rapist motivated with displace anger.
    (Criminal Justice and Behavior, Vol. 14 1978)
    71% of all high school dropouts.
    (National Principles Report on the state of high schools)
    75% of  all adolescents patients in chemical abuse centers.
    (Rainbows for all God's children)
    85% of all youths sitting in prisons.
    (Fulton Co. Georgia jail populations, Texas Dept. of Corrections 1992)"

    Therefore, for society to reduce the prevalence of criminality, reducing fatherlessness would be a significant step. There are many other reports producing similar results, including:

    "The largest factor in predicting whether a child will graduate high school, attend college, become involved in crime or drugs, or get pregnant before age 18 is the presence (or absence) of a father in the child’s life.  Studies show that this remains true even after adjustments for household income. The largest predictor of juvenile crime is the presence of a father is from, among others, “Douglas A. Smith and G. Roger Jajoura, “Social Structure and Criminal Victimization,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 25, Number 1, February 1988, pages 27-52.  In this studies children of poor and wealthy families had equal juvenile crime rates if there was a father in the home. The largest predictor of drug use is from, among others, Robert H. Coombs and John Landsverk, “Parenting Styles and Substance Abuse During Childhood and Adolescence,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 50, May 1988, p. 479, Table 4.  The study considered various factors, including race, social class, gender, etc.,  and father presence was five times more important than any other factor. The teenage pregnancy statistic is from, among others, Frank F Furstenberg, Jr. and Kathleen Mullan Harris, “When and Why Fathers Matter: Impact of Father Involvement on the Children of Adolescent Mothers. ”Father presence and education is discussed in Warren Farrell, Father and Child Reunion: How to Bring the Dads We Need to the Children We Love, Penguin Putnam Inc, 2001, pp 31-34.  The presence of a father in a child’s life has more impact on a child’s educational achievement, beginning, in early elementary school, than race, social class, gender, etc."
     
    May I suggest that, in the light of the consistency with which politicians ignore this and much other data, that it is almost a policy position to support divorce, and consequent fatherlessness to ensure the supply of dysfunctional people to support the judicial industry? Certainly this is a theme explored on some forums by those with far more time to do the academic research than I do (sadly I am yet to resolve the financial mess my ex created - [deliberately? it certainly appeared to be as part of her wide ranging destructiveness], hence work takes up a .... significant amount of time). Addressing such as issue is certainly the remit of the politicians, however it is only by voices such as F4J, and the many others, airing this issue with reference to the dreadful consequences in child abuse, will the issues get onto the agenda.

    How to address the identification of such mental health disorders would be a challenge, however it is a challenge that must be addressed, one of the challenges being that I suspect that staff in some of the family law statutory agencies may exhibit symptoms of this disorder (pretty certain that I met some!). If as a society we are serious about reducing child abuse, then as this type of abuse is far more widespread than the (less destructive to children) criminal abuse normally addressed by the courts, it is vital that these issues are resolved, and we move to post separation parenting policies that are far healthier for children.

    I would suggest that in the light of the above, F4J, and their peers, are rather Super-heroes than villains, displaying the courage and determination needed to take on an entrenched system with quite an erudite and affluent lobby.

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  18. Must add one reference in relation to the almost universally accepted vie that men are violent against women:

    http://www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm


    SUMMARY:  This bibliography examines 206 scholarly investigations: 159 empirical studies and 47 reviews and/or analyses, which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners.  The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 197,900. 

    The research I have seen suggests that women are slightly more violent and abusive than men.

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  19. "Regarding the claim that the www.f4j.us web site is not the "official" site of F4J, I’ll point out that the site actually is the official web site of the US-based Fathers4Justice organization.

    The US organization is incorporated in the US; it has its principal office in the US; it's a recognized 501c3 organization; it is authorized to do business in the US; it owns the registered trademarks and the exclusive rights to use the names Fathers4Justice and F4J in the United States; and none of the above is true of any other organization.

    Contrary to what some might say, I don’t think that you can get any more official than that. At the same time, we are growing by leaps and bounds with full accountability, transparency, and 100% volunteerism."


    Jamil,

    I met you in the UK a few years back and was totally impressed.

    I am so glad that the USA operation http://www.f4jus.com/ is in such good hands.


    Best Regards

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  20. Hi John,
    I live in Florida and from what I have seen of the family court system here is that they promote parents working together and sharing the immense responsibility of raising their children after divorce. Parents that realize the emotional damage a nasty divorce can do to their children choose to settle things amicably and put their personal issues aside and work together in their children's best interest. The courts don't bother these families as they are not being asked to do so. However, in some cases, parents are very high conflict and appear to be willing to hire a lawyer and take their chances letting a judge decide who's the best parent and who gets to do what when. Of coarse after these lenghty and costly battles most parents come off not very happy with the outcome and the children suffer the consequences. In many of these cases the parents continue to drag each other back to court time and time again for years or until the children reach the age of maturity. Its like they are locked into this behavior and can't move on with their lives until they get what they perceive is the right decision. Meanwhile, its the children sufferring the consequences of their parents choices. The Florida courts appear to be aware of the problem of the high conflict parents and are looking for ways to deal with it. Many parents are being referred (ordered) to parenting coordinators who work with the parents in therapy sessions. The aim is to educate parents to realize how important it is to their children's emotional well being for them to stop fighting and get on with parenting together-apart.

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  21. Mr Bolch - may I suggest that you read 'Making Contact Work' - a report by the Children Act Sub-committee chaired by Sir Nicholas (now Lord Justice) Wall. I think it will explain to you the situation quite clearly. The government's reply to the requests and suggestions in that report was watered down and inadequate.

    You might also benefit from reading the report of the Commons Select Committee investigating the Family Courts chaired by Alan Beith MP, and the lacklustre reply from the government.

    Is it any wonder, if the senior judiciary and interested MPs are frustrated and ignored by Downing St, that the people whose children are being abused, by acts of omission, are just as frustrated, upset and angry?

    It is telling that you, as a practising solicitor, have to ask such questions, and probably demonstrates the ignorance which is widespread in your profession about the harm that you and your colleagues are capable of doing to children.

    You cannot just take the cash, chuckle, and say you were acting under orders.

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  22. Thank you Tim. I have read the reports to which you refer, and am aware of the recommendations for reform, although even if they were implemented, I doubt that they would satisfy all. I agree that the behaviour of some lawyers may cause harm to children, but my experience is that most lawyers do act in the best interests of the children, even if this means giving their clients advice that they do not wish to hear.

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  23. John,my son's LG & solicitor done nothing much at all to represent the wishes or feelings on the welfare check list.Caffcass have destroyed the file which should have been retained. My son is nearly 12 years old soon.
    This has been going on now nearly 5 years , it could go on all of his life time with people stopping him having a voice.
    I lost the case in 2004, I was given 1 hour a month in a contact centre. Most of the F4J who have heard or seen the videos on YT say there is no good enough reason to do this to my son.
    I will be bench marking the case for him to be able to contact me for a link to a genetic key.
    My son had leukaemia, what right do the courts have to stop this contact?
    After all I have not harmed him or stopped him having treatment in the past.
    The courts however , have done this by ruling me out .The medical pathology has been tampered with or trashed by the so called expert witness.
    Why is it then in mediation the parents do not agree in principle before they part on contact issues to leave a genetic key for children in the best interest of the child?
    I am so fed up of talk , about time someone brought some hard facts to the table now, just because your child is diagnosed with cancer , your problems of DV will not vaporize into thin air.
    I have however used the method of most DV victims : I have kept out of the way of the abuser.
    My life is very un -complicated the same can not be said for my son.
    I have been ruled out much more than any parent should have been ruled out.
    I have no conviction for child abuse in public law /closed court. On the other hand in criminal court a father got full custody to a very scared child in 2005.
    Today we are left with teachers seeing a display of an 11 year old boy who is out of control and losing it.
    And who could blame him for this!
    Child C has played the game and is now kicking back against the same system who set out to act in his best interests.
    The case is going out to Europe on human rights grounds. A right to life .

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