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Conflict of Interest and the Family Court

(published in the New Zealand Law Journal August 2006, p. 243).

© Peter Zohrab 2006

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Some people might have been surprised when fathers started picketing the houses of Family Court lawyers, psychologists and judges, but this was, in part, a reaction to the conflicts of interest that affects all professions in New Zealand society -- including those three. The two main conflicts of interest involve women who see their careers and/or relationships as (in part) a way of pursuing feminist goals, and men who see their careers and/or relationships as dependent on not upsetting such women, which leads them to reinterpret issues in a feminism-compatible way. The personal is political.

Historically, this started with a conflict between the interests of separate groups. The family was a strong institution that stood between the individual and governmental and other organisations. Like all institutions, the family needed leadership, and this was provided by the eldest male. Feminists manage to persuade a large proportion of society that these males were affected by a conflict of interest which was detrimental to the interests of females, and that the solution was to move towards a model involving "equality" -- later, this often became "equity", and then sometimes "girl power."

However, feminists themselves have been affected by a conflict of interest, as a result of the fact that they have been involved in political activism over many decades, in order to attempt to solve the conflict of interest mentioned above. They have claimed victimhood for women and have often acted to suppress attempts to disclose the male victimhood which arguably existed (and still exists) -- even under the patriarchal model. They have clearly seen that any societal acceptance of a victim-role for men would undermine the case for female victimhood that feminists have been building up.

A Court of Law would not simply accept one party's bald assertion that that party's goal is equality or equity between the parties, and then deny the other party a say in the determination of what that equality or equity might, in practice, involve -- yet that is the way the Law Society, the Institute of Judicial Studies, Law Schools, law journals and the vast majority of individual lawyers appear to behave in relation to feminism. Natural Justice is absent.

A published article by Wendy Davis (1) exemplifies this point: the excerpt from it which was reproduced in a large, bolded and italicised font and placed in a box for emphasis has nothing to do with the Family Court or the Law as it is today, but a lot to do with political ideology, unsupported by evidence. The excerpt in question states the following:

Gender bias can prejudice both women and men, but it is not symmetrical. Unlike gender bias against men, gender bias against women occurs in the context of women’s generally disadvantaged position in society and, historically, under the law.

In a journal which was purportedly about Family Law, was it appropriate that such a passage should even appear – let alone be highlighted as the main message of the article? The word law occurs in this excerpt only in a historical context, which is irrelevant to an article about the law as it is today. The rest of the passage is a claim about women’s allegedly disadvantaged position in society, which is a political, rather than a legal claim. Not only is it political, but it is ideological, because it relies on this catechism having been instilled into us with our mothers’ milk, absolving the author and editor from the need to provide one shred of evidence – either for the claim about legal history or for the claim about women’s current position.

Legal issues involving sexual bias, fathers’ rights, domestic violence and the Family Court can only be rationally discussed in a context which is free of the guilt-feelings which some stakeholders expect males to feel with respect to historical or non-legal matters.

Moreover, the excerpt from Davis’ article that is quoted above is incoherent and arguably false. It is incoherent to mention “women’s generally disadvantaged position in society” without including the implied phrase “by comparison with men’s position”. It makes no sense to claim that women are disadvantaged without claiming that men are less disadvantaged – yet men are routinely not mentioned in such statements. If men were mentioned, that would naturally open the door to asking what disadvantages men suffer from, and then one might mention their life-span, conscription, workplace accidents, imprisonment rate, suicide rate, health care, and so on and so forth. In terms of legal history, as well, one might want to mention the ways in which women have been free of many of the legal liabilities that men have had to bear.

A good case could be made that men are and have been just as disadvantaged as women both under the Law and generally in society. The interested reader is referred to my book, Sex, Lies & Feminism , and to the many other books and webpages on the subject. Moreover, the rise of the Men’s/Fathers’ Movement must surely be an indication that this particular emperor might have no clothes.

In a relatively informal(2) setting such as the Family Court, the potential for that mindset to prevail is huge, even though the evidence is clear that feminism is really about women's perceived self-interest. All the professionals involved are capable of being affected by some sort of political conflict of interest.

The Men's/Fathers' Movement has many legitimate grievances, and -- in my view -- they all result from this problem of conflict of interest, which operates when Parliament drafts relevant legislation and when public servants go about their business, just as much as when cases are decided by negotiation, by mediation, or in a Family Court hearing.

I do not offer a solution here. All I assert is that replacing one form of apparent bias with another form of apparent bias does not necessarily constitute progress.

 

1. Wendy Davis Gender bias, fathers’ rights, domestic violence, and the Family Court (2004) 4 Butterworths Family Law Journal 12, 299.
2. See Taimie L. Bryant Family Models, Family Dispute Resolution and Family Law in Japan ((1995) 14 UCLA Pacific Basin LJ 1

 

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