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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Fathers stage court protest
Fathers claim they are unfairly treated by the courts
Campaigners calling for fathers to be given better contact rights with their children have staged a protest inside a London court.

About 50 members of the Fathers 4 Justice group, which includes men and women, stormed Court One of the Family Division of the High Court in the Strand.

Courts sessions were suspended as police removed demonstrators but there were no arrests.

Friday's protest is the latest in a series of demonstrations by the group, which claims fathers have been unable to publicise alleged miscarriages of justice because of a "conspiracy of silence in the Family Court".

A spokeswoman for the group said the protest was aimed at opening up the family courts which, the protesters claim, operate under "a cloak of secrecy".

'Risking arrest'

The group's founder Matt O'Connor said: "The main family courts in London are now open to the public for the first time in years.

"Hundreds of fathers, some mothers and grandparents are risking arrest today by taking this direct action."

The group claims fathers going through divorce or separation proceedings are not treated equally in court and that as many as 40% lose contact with their children.

The demonstrators were removed by police
They also claim court orders granting fathers access to children are not always enforced.

A spokeswoman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said: "Children generally benefit from a continuing relationship with both parents following divorce or separation.

"The Children Act 1989, which had cross party support, encourages divorced or separated parents to reach agreement between themselves about arrangements for the future of their children.

"The court's role is to make a decision only in the minority of cases where the parents are unable to reach agreement."

Father Christmas

On the issue of court orders, she said: "The enforcement of contact orders is a sensitive area.

"Deliberate refusal to obey any court order is contempt of court that can be punished with a fine or imprisonment.

"However, the courts may consider that such a penalty might not be appropriate in a child contact case because of the effect that would have on the children at the centre of the dispute.

"Nevertheless, it is unsatisfactory for contact orders to be flouted with impunity, and for children to be denied contact with one of their parents when the court has found this to be in their interests."

Last month a handful of campaigners from Fathers 4 Justice climbed up Plymouth Crown Court building.

That followed a Christmas demonstration, when about 100 men dressed as Father Christmas staged a sit-down protest at the Lord Chancellor's Department in London.

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