Sunday, April 06, 2008

Ex Cultu Robur

Mr Justice Coleridge caused quite a stir with his widely-reported comments about family breakdown at Resolution's annual conference last week. Laws of Love did a piece on it yesterday, and I certainly agree that the judge made some good points, especially about the lack of funding for the family justice system and the failure of successive governments to “face up to the need to reform the substantive law of divorce, financial ancillary relief and the law relating to cohabitants". However, I can't help but wonder just how qualified he is to comment upon family life in this country. What does Sir Paul James Duke Coleridge, son of a Major and educated at Cranleigh School (motto: 'From Culture comes Strength') know about the realities for the vast majority of people? No doubt he has come across many things during his illustrious career, but has he ever rubbed shoulders with those who are forced to live in the ghettos where so much of the "youth crime, child abuse, drug addiction and binge-drinking" takes place? I'm not saying that he doesn't have a right to comment - of course he does - just that he is not necessarily the best qualified social commentator.

The other point I wanted to make about the speech is one already picked up by Charon QC - the language he used, which at times reached a level of absurd hyperbole. Talk of a "cancerous" increase in broken families is straight out of the Daily Mail, and of a “never ending carnival of human misery - a ceaseless river of human distress” is just a little bit of an exaggeration. However, to compare the effects of family breakdown to those of global warming (if, indeed, there is such a thing) is plain inanity. An increase in crime and unhappiness levels in this country hardly compares with the destruction of the planet's ecosystem.

[Update: The full text of the speech can now be found here. (PDF)]

6 comments:

  1. As a Family Division judge I would have thought he had some idea of the results of family breakdown. Indeed I work in the community and see first hand the challenges facing a large number of families and would agree with him. Also did you see the response from the Department for Children, Schools and Families who are responsible for the wellbeing of families in the UK:
    A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Families and Schools defended the Government's record on families and children. She said: "Most children and young people in England today are safe, healthy, and achieve well."
    "We are absolutely committed to improving the wellbeing of all children, young people and families. We do not agree that there has been a breakdown in the family - 70% of families are headed by a married couple and a recent BBC poll suggests that three-quarters of people in Britain are optimistic about the future of their families, 24% higher than when the same question was asked in 1964. Our Children's Plan puts children and families at the centre of everything the Government does."
    I can quite understand the need for Mr Justice Coleridge’s “level of absurd hyperbole”, how else are we going to get some change in attitude? Actually one way is to support our petition here http://www.everyfamilymatters.org.uk./, although it needs much more to change the apathy in some government departments.

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  2. I wonder if Jeremy Kyle Factors in here... ( somewhere....)

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  3. Nick Langford13 April 2008 11:15

    As a fellow Old Cranleighan I almost feel honour-bound to come to Coleridge's defence. Almost. There is something rather perverse about the suggestion that because the man has had an education he should be barred from expressing an opinion (you didn't go to Bedales, did you?). As for the purple prose, it is surely necessary to raise one's voice a little to cut through the deafening complacency.

    What is unfortunate about his comments is that although he seems to understand the effects very well, he has no idea of the causes, and was very taken aback yesterday when a group of family campaigners from various organisations (many of whom had had their families devastated by the good judge) put it to him that he and his colleagues might like to take some responsibility.

    The boys from the Met decided to make us stand a few doors down from Coleridge and outside the house of some unsuspecting but no less complicit family law magistrate. Perhaps they knew something we didn't. We also learnt that it is self-defeating to protest ouside the house of anyone who lives directly under a flight path. No wonder it addles their brains.

    I have yet to come across any public sector worker who doesn't argue that the failings of their department can be eased by placing yet greater burdens on the taxpayer. I would agree however that the whole structure of the family justice industry needs a radical overhaul, and that the legislation needs to be replaced. Coleridge has promised an opportunity to discuss these and other issues and it will be interesting to see what comes of it.

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  4. Hi Nick,

    Good to hear from you again. I'm glad (but not surprised) that you agree that the family justice 'industry' needs an overhaul, although I'm sure you won't be holding your breath. As to 'the suggestion that because the man has had an education he should be barred from expressing an opinion', I did not, of course, say that - quite the opposite.

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  5. Nick Langford22 April 2008 11:18

    Granted. And I apologise.

    On the subject of overhauling the family justice system, I wonder if you have seen this Council of Europe motion?

    http://assembly.coe.int/Documents/WorkingDocs/Doc08/EDOC11583.htm

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  6. No, I had not seen that. It will be interesting to see what happens when the motion is discussed in the Assembly.

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