Those parents who find themselves in court to obtain meaningful contact with their children are very likely to find themselves the subject of a CAFCASS report. CAFCASS is the body which, amongst other activities, writes reports to assist courts in deciding the best way forward in matters of contact and adoption. Courts almost always accept the recommendations of the CAFCASS officer with perhaps a few minor variations to show that they are in charge.

Most CAFCASS officers belong to the Trade Union, NAPO, which has as one of its objectives, the removal of men from the lives of their children. Fathers therefore should consider themselves lucky to have any meaningful contact at all starting from this position.

Once a CAFCASS report is written, CAFCASS officers will not show it to a parent until the court approves which can be a few minutes before a hearing giving parents no time to absorb or object to the contents. This is done to minimise any complaints and protect the CAFCASS officer from rigorous questioning. CAFCASS says that any errors may be revealed in court and so there is no problem.

However, time constraints may not allow the CAFCASS officer to be questioned in full. Judges may declare that CAFCASS officers are being badgered and deny questions. Even so, judges in the Family Court make no decisions on the accuracy of any data in the report because the matter is not before them. Furthermore, they rarely order rectification because the decision on contact will be taken in the court. As far as judges are concerned, the report has done its work and is of no use. Yet this same report, which could be full of lies, half-truths and innuendos, can follow a parent for the rest of his or her life. It can affect future hearings. It can be extremely damaging for decades.

The Directive guarantees data subjects the right to rectification, erasure or blocking of inaccurate personal data as does the Data Protection Act. The problem is that there is no lex forum – or court – where parents can use the power of the Act or Directive. Actions under the DPA cannot be brought in the Family Court. The county court and High Court will say that you are trying to have two bites at the cherry by bringing a data protection action in their courts. In effect, they bounce it back and forward between them to prevent parents from using their guarantee provided under the Directive.

Parents cannot be at the mercy of the whims and caprices of judges in the Family Court, hoping against hope that the judge takes pity on them and orders a few changes, and they cannot be denied the use of the powerful data protection laws, yet this is the position in both England and Scotland.

We believe that children have the right to meaningful contact with both parents unless there is a very good and provable reason why they should not. It is the right of children to see their parents, not the right of parents to see their children that matters most. This is not a sexist issue although fathers are more affected than mothers.

The Data Protection Society has raised this issue with the European Commission who are currently investigating on the basis of a dossier which we provided.