With the news that the current President Of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, is set to step down next year, speculation will soon mount as to who will succeed him.
Munby’s decision to retire appears to stem from deep disappointment over the lack of progress inside the Family Court during his time as President. In a recent interview, he told The Law Gazette that there was “depressingly little to show for over two years’ hard pounding”.
Enter Justice McFarlane, an appeal court judge who works on Family Law cases, and who has recently begun to produce highly political judgments and calls to action urging improvements inside the system.
His provocative speech to the Family Justice Council earlier this month, where he called on the government to rethink the country’s adoption policy, and his overtly political judgments, which he is using to highlight problems inside the Family Courts (like this judgment where McFarlane talks about the lack of resources for social work teams and the impact this is having on adoption decisions), are efforts at amplifying his own voice, as well as the courts’, and though he is less polished and considered than the President (see this awkward generalisation about mothers, which reads like an attempt to get fathers on side), there is more than a little of Munby’s outspoken style in McFarlane’s approach.
He’s clearly taking part in sector politics, too. Whilst his comments about the shake up of the adoption process will appeal to families who are going through child protection hearings and desperately trying to fight for support to keep their children, McFarlane is trying to tread a fine line between gaining the public’s trust and reassuring child welfare professionals he is ‘on their side’. That balancing act is evident in both his speech to the Council and his comments to the media. Whether he would have the courage to call out appalling acts of misconduct and highlight the less than ethical practices inside the system in the often direct and unflinching way Munby did, remains to be seen.
Whilst the new President of The Family Division won’t be announced until next year, we’ll be watching McFarlane. Let us know your thoughts on who you think might replace Lord Munby in 2018.
Sir Andrew McFarlane was called to the Bar in 1977 and practiced in chambers in Birmingham until 1993 when he moved to specialist family law chambers in London. He appeared at all levels of court including the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights. He was appointed as a QC in 1998. In April 2005 he was appointed to the High Court, Family Division and was for 5 years the Family Division Liaison Judge for the Midland Circuit. He was the legal member of the Government ‘Family Justice Review’ Panel.
He was appointed as a Lord Justice of Appeal in July 2011 and now sits full time in the Court of Appeal in London.