Thursday, 1 April, 2004, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK

Courts 'fail fathers' says judge
Man and woman
Parents are encouraged to make their own arrangements

A High Court judge has attacked the family justice system for wrongly penalising fathers.

Mr Justice Munby spoke out after he dealt with a man who had not seen his daughter for two-and-a-half years.

The Family Division judge said when the system fails, "and fail it does", it was more often fathers, not mothers, who were the "victims".

The father abandoned his battle for contact with his daughter, seven, after unfounded allegations by his ex-wife.

We failed them - the system failed them
Mr Justice Munby

The ex-wife had not complied with court orders, said the judge. None of the parties involved in the case can be identified.

The judge said he was speaking out because public opinion over system failings had to be taken into account by the judiciary.

And he called for changes to the way courts deal with applications for family contact.

This case may be viewed as exemplifying everything that is wrong with the system, he said.

"There is much wrong with our system and the time has come for us to recognise that fact and to face up to it honestly.

"If we do not we risk forfeiting public confidence."

'Every justification'

In his judgment, the judge apologised to the child and the father, who was said to be a warm and caring man.

"Whether an improved system would have provided a better outcome for this child and this father is now almost impossible to know.

"But they were denied the chance of a better outcome and for that they deserve a public, albeit necessarily anonymous, apology.

"We failed them. The system failed them."

He said some fathers only had themselves to blame and may wrongly " turn the feelings of frustration and anger into criticism of the system".

But he added: "Some - in the nature of things I cannot know how many, but I fear it is too many for comfort - have every justification for their feelings."