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President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, unhappy with lack of family law reform

In a speech at the University of Edinburgh, the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has criticised a lack of progress with regards to the reform of certain areas of family law.

With regards to basic divorce proceedings, Sir James expressed regret that reforming provisions of the Family Law Act 1996 have never been brought into force, and he confirmed that he was eagerly awaiting the appeal decision of the Supreme Court in the controversial case of Owens v Owens (where, in essence, a woman was denied a divorce on the basis that her particulars of unreasonable behaviour did not describe sufficiently unreasonable behaviour).

With regards to the law around ancillary (financial) relief following a divorce, Sir James also opined that it was increasingly clear that radical reform is not merely necessary but inevitable.

With regards to cohabitants’ rights (i.e. the rights of individuals on separation when they have not married), Sir James said: "The frequency of the occasions on which the problem has been considered by…  the Supreme Court over the best part of 50 years, has demonstrated that… neither the common law nor equity is capable of producing an effective remedy. Reform is desperately needed."

Sir James also ruled the fact that judges in family cases still lack the power to prevent what has rightly forbidden in criminal cases, namely the cross-examination of victims of domestic violence by their alleged abusers. In this regard, Sir James noted that the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017, which included clauses which would likely have remedied the problem, appears to have fallen by the wayside, with the Government seemingly unwilling or unable to say when it will be looked at again.

For the full text of Sir James Munby’s speech, follow this link:


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