Those of us old enough to remember Olivier staring at Hoffman in Marathon Man as he squirmed in the dentist’s chair will recall the subtle sense of menace with which the question was delivered. Each time I enter a court building the same question comes to mind and today was no different. As I sat in court watching the face of the District Judge reflect the concern I was feeling we listened to the ‘security guards’ outside the court door trying to ‘encourage’ an individual and his partner not to enter the court room as he screamed and protested. It was obvious when he was eventually allowed in that this was an individual who had the potential for violence and as he sat down a few feet from me, I tried to judge whether that violence was going to come my way.
I have been in Court when a parent has launched themselves at a Guardian and I have stood in their way. Luckily they backed down. Similarly I have seen a parent stand up and threaten a Judge in a way that looked like they were going to follow through with their fists. We cleared the Court and they were escorted out. I know that a colleague of mine in another firm was seriously assaulted by a parent quite recently and had to decide whether to continue to act in the case (she decided she would). Things have not always gone as well for me. In my first ever children case a mother picked me up and pinned me against a wall like I was a rag doll. I have been the target of anger when I have had nothing to do with the decision to remove a child as often as when I have been.
Please do not think this is going to put me off doing what I do. I will represent children and parents no matter what people throw my way. I understand their emotions – I have seen a parent repeatedly smash their face on a court desk, another crawl down to court aisle on her chest, yet another faint out of stress. These are life changing situations and these are peoples children. if we forget why people feel as they do and what causes them to react as they do then we are in danger of forgetting our purpose – to help people in the context of human relationships, to try to navigate a path where children can remain part of their families to the extent that this is possible. Whether it is safe is, to large degree, not what really matters.