Fathers 4 Justice (F4J) was formed in the summer of 2001 by London-based creative director and political activist Matt O’Connor after he was denied access to his two boys in Britain’s Secret Family Courts. This followed a difficult separation from his first wife.
Despite resolving the matter out of court in late 2001 and re-establishing a normal relationship with his children, O’Connor pledged to reform family law for the benefit of his two sons whom he feared would suffer the same experience when they became fathers. On 17th December 2002, Fathers 4 Justice staged their first direct action demonstration when 200 Father Christmases stormed the lobby of the then Lord Chancellor’s Department.
Since then O’Connor has masterminded the creation of one of the highest profile campaign groups in the world, spawning a host of imitation (but unrelated) groups in different countries. His iconic protests have garnered worldwide publicity for a cause shrouded in secrecy by the courts and ignored by the political and religious elite.
From Spiderman at Tower Bridge to Batman at Buckingham Palace and the flour-bombing of the Prime Minister in the chamber of the House of Commons, the campaign for truth, justice and equality in family law has captured the public imagination, catapulting the issues surrounding family law to the top of the political agenda, and inspiring thousands of disenfranchised parents and grandparents alike to campaign for equal parenting rights.
Given the attention the campaign received, it is unsurprising that the history of F4J has not been without incident. In 2006 The Sun newspaper ran a front-page story saying that ‘extremist’ elements on the outskirts of F4J had been plotting to kidnap then Prime Minister’s son, five-year-old Leo Blair.
It transpired that the story was a gossamer thin smear, but in an increasingly murky world where the authorities were attempting to subvert the organisation, O’Connor temporarily disbanded the campaign, and in doing so, secured even more front-page coverage for F4J.
By the latter part of the decade, with the departure of Tony Blair as Prime Minister, F4J switched from direct action to political dialogue and between June 2008 to May 2011, the organisation negotiated in good faith with the Conservative Party, securing 10 written commitments to reform family law.
In June 2011 the Prime Minister David Cameron broke those commitments and on Fathers Day he launched an unprecedented attack on fathers. Just days later, on the 10th anniversary of his forming Fathers 4 Justice, Matt O’Connor declared he would go on hunger strike and that Fathers 4 Justice would return to direct action to finish the work they had started a decade ago.
Campaign Director, Fathers 4 Justice