We should applaud the end of the nuclear family, says top judge

Olivia Rudgard — The Telegraph June 1, 2018

Sir James Munby

Britain should “welcome and applaud” the collapse of the nuclear family, the most senior family judge in England and Wales has said.

In a speech, Sir James Munby, the president of the High Court’s family division, said the modern British family was “complex” and “takes an almost infinite variety of forms”.

He said that “whether through choice or circumstance”, many people “live in families more or less removed from what, until comparatively recently, would have been recognised as the typical nuclear family.

“This, I stress, is not merely the reality; it is, I believe, a reality which we should welcome and applaud.”

Listing the ways in which the family had changed, he said: “People live together as couples, married or not, and with partners who may not always be of the other sex.

“Children live in households where their parents may be married or unmarried.

“They may be brought up by a single parent, by two parents or even by three parents. Their parents may or may not be their natural parents.

“They may be children of parents with very different religious, ethnic or national backgrounds. They may be the children of polygamous marriages.

“Their siblings may be only half-siblings or step-siblings. Some children are brought up by two parents of the same sex. Some children are conceived by artificial donor insemination. Some are the result of surrogacy arrangements.”

He said the growth of international relationships had been fuelled by technology and cheap airfares, while same-sex relationships which had previously been regarded as “perversions to be stamped out by the more or less enthusiastic enforcement of a repressive criminal law” were now treated with “acceptance and respect”.

The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that there are around 10,000 same-sex couples in the UK who have dependent children

Parental orders made as part of surrogacy arrangements have grown from less than 50 a year before 2008 to 300 a year currently.

In the speech made at Liverpool University in honour of 20th-century social reformer Eleanor Rathbone, he called for family law to “adapt itself to these realities” and described the pace of change “maddeningly slow”.

Last year he spoke out about funding for mental health services after finding that there was no secure place “anywhere in the country” for a suicidal teenage girl to go.

He warned the country would have “blood on our hands” if she was released into the community and killed herself.

He said he received criticism for the intervention but remained “unrepentant”.

“There are occasions, and this, in my judgment, was one, where a judge’s sworn duty to do “right” includes speaking truth to power,” he said.

Recalling the case in his speech this week, he said judges should have more power to decide what happens to children in such situations.

Courts are currently barred from intervening in the work of local authorities, and Sir James called for new legislation to change this.

The courts have to be “properly equipped for their vital problem-solving role,” he said, as judges are currently limited to the “blunted weapons of persuasion and shaming”.

Sir James, who is due to retire next month as he turns 70, is a well-known supporter of no-fault divorce and has previously called for the family courts to become more transparent in order to increase public trust in the system.

Last year he ruled that laws which restricted the use of surrogacy to couples, excluding single people, were discriminatory, prompting the Government to change them.

He has also warned that too many children are being criminalised by the CPS and called for cohabiting couples to get the same rights as married people.

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