Munby urges radical reform of family courts

Topics: Family and children,Courts business

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  • Sir James Munby

The president of the Family Division has publicly questioned whether divorce should remain subject to judicial supervision.

Sir James Munby (pictured) told last week’s Legal Wales Conference in Bangor that ‘radical’ reform is necessary to address the effects of legal aid cuts.


Munby said the new child arrangement programme, which came into effect in April, requires a new approach to private law cases.

He stated that the system must reflect the ‘reality’ that parties will no longer be represented and the courts will have to adjust accordingly.

‘The concept of the courts’ continuing monitoring and review function following the substantive hearing – the legacy of ideas rooted in old wardship practice – will in large measure become a thing of the past,’ he added.

On divorce, Munby suggested even more fundamental change may be required.

He asked whether the time has come to legislate to remove all concepts of faults as a basis for divorce and to leave irretrievable breakdown as the sole ground. This may also lead to separating the process of divorce from the process of adjudicating claims for financial relief following divorce.

‘May the time not come when we should at least consider whether the process of divorce still needs to be subject to judicial supervision?’ he added. 

Munby said the aim of the family court must be to ‘simplify and streamline’ the process to make it more user-friendly for litigants in person and cheaper for all.

On the subject of cohabitants’ rights, he was critical of the ‘injustice’ of unmarried partners not receiving the same treatment as married couples from courts in the redistribution of assets.

‘Reform is desperately needed – has been desperately needed for at least 40 years,’ Munby concluded. ‘Thus far governments have failed to act. Reform is inevitable. It is inconceivable that society will not right this injustice in due course.’

Readers' comments (17)

  • Why are we bothering with courts at all ?? I'm hearing the same about taking bankruptcy out of the court process. Both the judiciary and the administration of courts are frankly embarrassing and maybe chickens are coming home to roost, when you continually hammer solicitors and successive Governments refuse to properly resource anything. 3rd World Britain.

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  • Streamlining the system and making it cheaper for all? That's a joke!

    A petition now costs £410 - applications have shot up to £155 and if you want to do anything at all, the court charges you royally.

    I'm sick and tired of reading that Solicitors charges are too high - seeing them amputated rather than shaved, and seeing court fees rocket out of all proportion.

    Most couples now cannot afford to divorce - simply because of the fees charged by the court.

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  • So, the causes of parental disagreement and the need of a knowledgeable, legally qualified arbiter aren't going to disappear. Just the knowledgeable, legally qualified arbiters. What are all those designated children-case DJs going to do?
    And who is actually going to do the job? Social workers? cafcas staff. Maybe Probation Officers? Local Authority Dog Wardens?
    I really thought Lord Munby had a grip on the Family Div but now it seems that he has caught the Grayling don't need any legal training or qualifications to be the Lord Chancellor so why should one need such to be a Judge. Does not " the greater include the lesser"? And if one can be the Head of the Judicial System and exercise one's functions without any sense of fair play or actually observing the Rules, it seems a good indicator that a similar situation can obtain in resolving parental disputes regarding children where the State sees no advantage in resolving those disputes within the function and provision by the State.
    Most odd.

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  • I believe that The Right Honourable Lord Justice Munby makes a good point on the removal of fault based divorce, in that if the parties mutually consider the marriage has irretrievably broken down then the Court's must reasonably facilitate and grant the divorce. Culpability is not a major consideration for ancillary financial relief in any event.

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  • Seems to me as if the family court system has irretrievably broken down.

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  • The divorce process should be administrative, he's right about that.

    Cohabitees who have chosen not to marry should not have the rights or incur the liabilities of those who do, he's wrong about that.

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  • The government will pass it on to SERCO or G4 or whatever they are called. Dumbed down Britain. Thanks bankers.

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  • Forgive me observing that the The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 created the sole ground for divorce of "irretrievable breakdown". Yes, the system still recognised the need for Offence or agreement but it was not material to the mechanics nor money issues. I never did childrens' cases but apart from fitness for parental function, how does making the role of the "judge" an administrative rather than judicial one alter the purpose or need?

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  • Only last month Munby set aside over 100 decrees dissolving the marriages of Italians who had never lived here on the ground of fraud. He suggested that the process of ensuring that parties are entitled to petition here be tightened up. Now he suggests divorce should become purely administrative. Will the real Sir James Munby please stand up!

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  • It seems to this simple mind that an easy remedy is to hand. Not just 'sweet agreement'.

    Marriage has two dimensions? Religious and legal contract?

    Religious must sort that out for themselves but I would urge the orthodox streams of our various major faiths to remember the word 'merciful'.

    As to contract, I am hopeful that some bright lawyer may make a name for him/herself in providing a standard form contract that, subject to a valid pre-nup duly certified by a solicitor (come on lads,let's stay together!!!), the following provisions shall apply: (FILLIN).

    I trust this hackneyed idea of reason please! may attract Sir James Munby's approval?

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