No fault divorce would help women who are “trapped in a loveless marriage”, the President of the Family Division has claimed.
Speaking to the Edinburgh Law School earlier this week, Sir James Munby referred to the contentious case of Owens v Owens, in which a woman in her 60s was refused a divorce from her husband because she was unable to demonstrate to a sufficient legal standard that her marriage had really broken down. She appealed unsuccessfully and Mrs Owens’ case has since gone to the Supreme Court, which is due to consider the facts in May.
Sir James Munby, who is due to retire later this year, presided over the Court of Appeal hearing. He told law students that Mrs Owens had been unsuccessful because, while she had “with some justification, considered herself trapped in a loveless marriage”, she nevertheless “had failed to establish any ‘ground’ upon which she was entitled to a decree [of divorce]; specifically because, to use the convenient short-hand expression, she had failed to establish ‘unreasonable behaviour’ on the part of her husband.”
This case meant, he insisted, that the law was “very badly in need of reform”.
Speaking at the same event, the President also suggested that family law had a Victorian notion of marriage for too long and was still marred by “hypocrisy and lack of intellectual honesty”. Meanwhile, women were “condemned to injustice” by the current lack of legal rights for cohabiting couples.
The 69 year-old declared:
“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.”
Lawyer Jill Kirky of the Centre for Policy Studies said the speech was “highly political”, insisting:
“He should step down.’
The full speech is available here.