When Mr Justice Coleridge publicly launched the Marriage Foundation a few weeks ago there was much discussion in the legal press and media as to whether it was appropriate for a serving Judge to concern himself with such matters. The danger of the politicisation of the judiciary was a concern for many commentators who perceived a risk that the independence of Judges could be called into question by those who don’t subscribe to the classic model of family life, consisting of married parents and 2.4 children.
The Foundation is supported by a number of illustrious patrons including many senior members of the judiciary and notable academics as well as senior practitioners. It has a helpful website which can be found at marriagefoundation.org.uk where its aims and aspirations are clearly set out.
Those of us who work in the family justice system and who see the emotional and psychological fallout of relationship break-down on a daily basis will have few qualms about any principled attempt to lend support to an institution that provides a tried and tested arrangement for nurturing children. To do so it not to discourage other lifestyles which may have equal validity for those who favour them and the emphasis should surely be on encouraging stable relationships between parents and helping them to choose to stay together.
But, is that simply to say that apple pie is a good thing; a platitude with as much practical application as the enjoinder to “hug a hoodie”, or David Cameron’s “Big society”.
It begs the bigger question as to whether the foundation can hope to influence, through the Media, and public debate, the future development of family structures and social policy. Arguably the media reflects rather than shapes such trends, the causes of which are to be found in more profound and powerful forces reflecting economic and social change which may prove to be irreversible. The trend towards greater relationship breakdown is not a recent development. Its roots go back at least to World War II and possibly beyond. The Foundation itself accepts that legislation cannot in itself produce more stable relationships but it does seek to influence future policy to support rather than undermine the institution of marriage. Therein lies the possibility for future controversy and conflict with those who do not share that aspiration. Unless a fundamental change of direction can be achieved the Foundation may find it hard to stem a tide which has been flowing for some time and shows little sign of turning.
Even so, the venture may still be worthwhile. It has certainly begun to focus a public debate about important social issues and the Learned Judge has undoubtedly shown that he has the courage and determination to pursue what he has started. There will surely be few, in the field of Family Law, who do not wish him and his supporters well.
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