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Senior family law judge: courts are ‘neutral’ on religion

The courts respect religious belief but take “an essentially neutral” stance on faith, England’s most senior family judge has declared.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, said: “A secular judge must be wary of straying across the well-recognised divide between church and state.”

Speaking at the first annual conference of the Law Society’s Family Section, the President insisted that the traditional Christian faith of the judicial establishment was no longer an element of proceedings and judges now appear as “secular judges serving a multicultural community of many faiths sworn to do justice to all manner of people”.

Religious belief was no concern of either the government or the secular courts the Law Society Gazette reports Sir James saying.

“We live in a society, which on many of the medical, social and religious topics that the courts recently have to grapple with, no longer speaks with one voice. These are topics on which men and women of different faiths or no faith at all hold starkly different views. All of these views are entitled to the greatest respect, but it is not for a judge to choose between them.”

The courts should recognise no religious distinctions and pass no judgements on belief systems, the President said, as long as they are “legally and socially acceptable” and not “immoral or socially obnoxious”.

“A child’s best interests have to be assessed by reference to general community standards, making due allowance for the entitlement of people, within the limits of what is permissible in accordance with those standards, to entertain very divergent views about the religious, moral, social and secular objectives they wish to pursue for themselves and for their children.”

Practices such as forced marriage and “honour” killing were “beyond the pale” he said.

In relation to matters concerning children, he said, the courts will  take into account the beliefs of the parents, but will always rule on what they belief to be the best interests of the child. Amongst other examples of such conflict, he cited the belief amongst Jehovah’s Witnesses that blood transfusions are sinful.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Stitchedup says:

    as long as they are “legally and socially acceptable” and not “immoral or socially obnoxious”…. uhmmm. is this an oxymoron. In my experience, what is legal and considered socially acceptable by the family courts IS in practice immoral and socially obnoxious. Munby also forgot to throw in “Politically Correct” and “not contrary to the feminist agenda”

    It’s interesting that he believes “A secular judge must be wary of straying across the well-recognised divide between church and state.” Yet he don’t seem to mind judges straying across the divide between politics and justice.

  2. Stitchedup says:

    And when does a judge cross then the well-recognised divide between family and state? Isn’t a right to private family life a Human Right??

  3. Stitchedup says:

    There’s more than a touch of PC about this.

    The conventional British, Christian family unit has no right to a private family life and is fair game for relentless intrusion by the state.

    Whereas, a family of another religion, cultural or ethnic background is shown tolerance, given a wide berth and best left alone unless they are a threat to the feminist agenda.

    I notice he mentions FGM so what about the cultures that practice Male Genital Mutilation?

  4. Stitchedup says:

    I take the last comment back FGM wasn’t mentioned, must have seen that somewhere else.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This is nonsense. Fathers who would like their children raised in a certain religion, when met with opposition from mothers, are labelled controlling and abusive. Mothers who want the same, when met with opposition from fathers, are regarded as morally correct, and the fathers are again billed as controlling and vindictive.

    As usual, there is a lot that is going unreported here.

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