President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby has put to rest rumours that he will be retiring next year.

In a speech at the Families Need Fathers’ Annual Conference this March, Munby told the audience that he had no plans to step down as President and that the claim, widely circulated by media outlets like The Times and The Law Society Gazette, was unfounded:

“There’s been a lot of what I think in some quarters is called “fake news”. The effect that I have announce my retirement – I have not. It’s even being said on a well-known website that I’ve decided to retire in despair at the system, which is not so.

This point has only emerged because some journalist with nothing better to do has rung up the judicial office and was told by the judicial office, “Sir James reaches the age of 70 in July 2018. He is required by statute to retire at his 70th birthday.” Which has become this very non-story.

I have no particular ambitions, although my ability to remain silent from the side-lines, freed from the fetters of judicial responsibility I suspect may be limited. I suspect I am thought of, in too many quarters, as too plain speaking and the price you pay for speaking truth to power, which is what I’ve done, I suspect I wouldn’t be welcome in certain places. Not that I have any particular wish to go there.”

The remark comes one month after articles published in the media suggested that a spokesman for the judiciary had confirmed Munby’s retirement over the phone to a journalist.

Whilst Munby may not be stepping down just yet, the question mark over his presidency remains.

A position of considerable authority, family law judges aspire to the Presidency both for its kudos and the opportunities for peerage and power it offers.

News of Munby’s alleged retirement did not go unnoticed, and one judge in particular looked like he had his eye on the prize.

Shortly after the bogus announcement at the beginning of February, Lord Justice McFarlane delivered an interesting speech for the The Bridget Lindley OBE Memorial Lecture 2017, on 7th March. The similarities between Munby’s openly political judgments and outspoken approach to the problems inside the family justice system, and McFarlane’s own attempt at mimicking that style, did not go unnoticed.

The speech was a brazen attempt at securing support from all sides – appealing to legal and child protection sectors, as well as families and in particular fathers who feel disenfranchised by the Family Court. It was a stunning display of chutzpah, even before Munby himself had gone on record to confirm the rumour.

But perhaps McFarlane’s confidence isn’t completely self manufactured. After spotting our piece on McFarlane’s bid for the presidency,  reliable sources told Researching Reform that he had been tipped as the next President by officials working in the corridors of power. And in November 2016, at The Family Justice Young People’s Board (FYPJB) conference in London, Munby allegedly told attendees that he would be retiring.

In an apparent change of heart, the current President has since decided to hold on to his title.

Munby’s growing impatience with a system that refuses to modernise or address its failings may well have given the Executive, and other government branches, a reason to force him out.

Nevertheless, any perceived or actual bids on the Presidency didn’t stop Munby from defending his position. One month after McFarlane’s call to arms, Munby retaliated with a well timed speech at the Families Need Fathers conference, quashing any suggestion that he would be retiring. Munby casually dropped this sentiment in at the end of his lecture, though the move was far from casual, or off the cuff.

McFarlane will now have to bide his time.

Many thanks to Family Coalition for alerting us to Munby’s speech and Penny Lilac for information on Munby’s comment that he would retire, at the conference in 2016.

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