Sir James Munby (pictured) has called for an overhaul of marriage law and said people would one day laugh at divorce law
Britain’s most senior family judge called for an overhaul of marriage law yesterday, saying people would one day laugh at the idea that a man had to support his ex-wife for life.
Sir James Munby called for equality for divorcees when maintenance payments are settled by the courts, highlighting ‘absurd’ divorce settlements that are unfairly biased against men.
Sir James, who is president of the family division of the High Court, also said cohabitees should have the same status as married couples, and fault-free divorces should be introduced.
He said it had taken too long to rid the law of the Victorian notion that men were in charge in a marriage, and the law was marked by ‘hypocrisy and lack of intellectual honesty’.
Sweeping reforms were ‘necessary and inevitable’, he claimed, and the lack of a law governing the rights of couples who live together left women ‘condemned to injustice’.
But marriage campaigners said the head of the family courts was trying to abolish marriage.
Sir James, who is 69 and due to retire this summer, was also accused of meddling in politics and was urged to quit now.
In a speech to lawyers in Edinburgh, he referred to Victorian judges who regarded women as the weaker sex, adding: ‘Past judicial utterances we now find almost absurd should serve as a terrible warning of how history will, in due course, come to judge the present generation.’
Sir James said the changes of the Sixties, including the Pill, legalised abortion and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, had changed the world.
Family life has been transformed, he added, by the rise of multiculturalism and immigration, respect for same-sex unions, and IVF.
He said there had also been ‘a conscious rejection of marriage as an institution’.
Sir James added: ‘A vital concern of family law has to be to ensure the extension to transgendered people of the equal protection of the law.’
But lawyer Jill Kirby, the former head of the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank, said the reforms were ‘an agenda for the abolition of marriage’.
She added: ‘Sir James is saying anyone who supports marriage law is bigoted, intolerant and stuck in the past. He backs the usual politically correct ideas.
‘Cohabitees would be given the privileges of marriage without showing the commitment of married couples.
Sir James said the changes of the Sixties, including the Pill, had changed the world and highlighted ‘absurd’ divorce cases biased against men
‘He wants to remove fault from marriage break-up, which is unfair to a faithful partner. This is a highly political speech. He should step down.’
Harry Benson, of the Marriage Foundation think-tank, said: ‘Change in the law is the responsibility of Parliament, not judges.’
Sir James also called for family courts to be opened to public scrutiny and routine reporting ‘to rid ourselves of the relentless and damaging charge that we operate a system of private – some say secret – justice’.
Family courts deal with divorce, family break-up and child custody disputes, as well as cases in which children are taken from their parents, and those in which parents harm their children.
While some judgments are made public, judges can stop journalists reporting hearings.