Andrew McFarlane has been approved by the Queen to take on the role of President of the Family Division. McFarlane will take up the position on 28th July, after the current President steps down on the 27th, July.
The decision was made with the support of a panel, which included Baroness Hale, Professor Lord Kakkar (Chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission), Dame Valarie Strachan and Mr Andrew Kennon.
His appointment will come as no surprise to this site – we tipped McFarlane for the Presidency in March of last year. McFarlane replaces Sir James Munby as President of the Family Division.
As a judge, McFarlane looks set to take up Munby’s mantle as a vocal figurehead wading into the politics of the family courts. Unlike Munby though, McFarlane appears reluctant to highlight controversies inside the system.
A member of the Norgrove Review, which was perceived by many to be too narrow in its scope and lacking in innovation, McFarlane is carving out a reputation for himself as a cautious and diplomatic President, trying to please all parties inside the Family Division.
His trademark diplomacy can be seen in some of his judgments. Presiding over the Charlie Gard case in 2017 , McFarlane highlighted grounds which he felt were powerful enough on their own to grant the family permission to appeal, during what were fraught hearings for the parents. In 2012, McFarlane was also one of several judges invited to give evidence at the House of Lords, on the adoption process.
Perhaps the new President feels a collaborative, and non confrontational approach might succeed where Munby’s direct and often powerful calls to action inside the Family Division, have failed. This is unlikely to be the case. Munby began his career as President with the same outlook as McFarlane has now. What Munby discovered, was that the softly softly approach did nothing to address the entrenched and often wilful breaches of policy and law inside the child welfare sector. It’s going to be interesting to see how McFarlane’s approach changes during his term. He may have to pick a side after all.