Yesterday Sir James Munby retired. Also, it was my birthday this week. I am old. Not as old as Sir James, but old nonetheless. Also, it was Pink Tape’s birthday this month. She is 11 years old. For a good chunk of Pink Tape’s life (since 2013) I have been writing and ranting about the latest Munby judgment, View or practice guidance. And for a good while now Sir James has been reading my blog and other legal blogs, and I hope they have in some small way contained some useful insights that have nudged things in a different direction. From time to time legal blogs and bloggers get a specific mention in a Munby judgment or speech. Earlier this year Sir James confirmed that he read blogs like Pink Tape, The Transparency Project and Suesspicious Minds daily, which is simultaneously daunting and gratifying. Whenever I have met Sir James he has been gracious about my grumbling about various of his reforms – and teased me by letting me know he has read them, sometimes by dropping a term I’ve used in a blog into the conversation. He doesn’t always change his mind. But he listens. Except when it comes to PD27A where he's doubled down (don't blame me!).
I’ve mused before that the President’s format of choice : his 'Views from' are not so far removed from blogging. They are after all a public ‘post’, hosted on a website and disseminated most widely via the internet, twitter and email. I’ve often pondered to what extent the President is cognizant of the detail of discussions amongst the legal twitterati and the general public about matters of family justice. Clearly he knows what goes on there has been precious little evidence that the President ‘does’ twitter or is aware of the ‘in the moment’ tweets we all send.
This week guidance has been issuing from the soon-to-be-ex-President’s office like confetti. One is of particular interest – a guidance note about adoption celebrations. It’s interesting because it was issued within a fortnight of the President becoming aware of a tweet by @DamianAStuart, complaining about the ongoing practice in some courts of holding adoption hearings in the same location and at the same time as care proceedings, thereby placing adoptive and biological families running the risk of forced encounters that are upsetting for both groups.
Sir James wasted no time in saying (again) this must stop. The novel feature of his guidance was that it specifically referred to the original tweet and the slew of responses on twitter that immediately followed. I’ve never seen a practice guidance note turned around so fast, and I’ve never seen a practice guidance note refer directly to a tweet.
I don’t think the President has a secret twitter account, even if it is entertaining to think that he might really be engaging in a bit of virtual cross dressing by operating the personas of @mandyinlisting or @brendatheusher or @mrjusticeserious (et al). I do know that personnel in the President’s Office are on twitter (the President’s Office has a cast of thousands), and often they like, retweet or comment on things family justice. So I think that Sir James has been on twitter by proxy. So far. Perhaps he will dabble directly in the twits, albeit anonymously, post retirement…
Sir James gave an interesting interview for the edition of Family Affairs that was published this week (The Family Law Bar Association magazine). In it he says he has a plan for his retirement, but it is 'inchoate'. Sadly The Ex-Presidents is already a band, so for that reason alone I’m guessing Sir James won’t be starting up his own gigging band. But we know the plan does involve writing (he talks of emerging plans to write a biography of a 'predecessor' from the 19th Century). 'I will probably write, I will probably think and I will give lectures and maybe the odd book or two', he says...
Sir James has always been outspoken. He says as much in his Family Affairs interview, vis a vis his ‘very strong’ views in the Court of Appeal calling for law reform by Parliament in the Owens case – ‘it seemed to me it was right for me as President – and I put some stress on that to say what I’d said even if it might not have been right for an LJ to say it. I thought it needed saying and if people didn’t like it, well that was their problem not mine…personally I have no problem being overturned by the Supreme Court’. Later he says he is ‘speaking in a sense as a quasi=politician, or as President’ when spelling out that he was rather hoping that he would be reversed in Owens because that would add strength to the argument that the law must be reformed. This President, like no other, is a media savvy political beast and throughout his presidency has very deliberately used his platform as a form of leverage to achieve judicial leadership objectives (sometimes successfully, sometimes not). There may be much negotiation behind the scenes, but the President is skilled at making the powers that be uncomfortable front of house.
I like to think that now the President has retired he will be even more outspoken and that perhaps he will express his views trenchantly via legal blogging (perhaps after a respectful period of silence to let his successor establish himself). Sir James, if you are reading this perhaps you will write Pink Tape a guest blog post for Pink Tape as a warm up before starting your own blog – a ‘View from the ex-President’s deck chair’, perhaps?
In truth, I really hope you aren't reading this, and that you are somewhere shady, with no tie and no electronic device, cooing over your new grandchild and pottering around doing mundane household tasks.