End of an era

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.

9 thoughts on “End of an era

  1. As a lay person (albeit a very well educated one) who had to fight through 16 private family law hearings in front of 13 different judges (with the first ten hearings being LIP), after extremely malicious unfounded accusations were made by the absent biological parent, I am indeed very very sorry to see Sir James go.
    Yes, we have our child still, but the child is still very young, and, after too many years of court ordered fortnightly residential contact, still finds these periods a shadow and blight on their little life, so we work very hard day by day to build in emotional resilence for them, and no, we do not engage in so called ‘parental alienation’ as the last thing we want to do is cause the child any more upset than is already enforced on it by the court.
    But there are still many years to go, and as it stands, at any time, we can become subject again to yet more wild malcious and spurious allegations of any and all forms of harm to our child… so many…. with a list which encompasses everything under the sun, including the risk of future possible emotional/psychological harm. And we could still lose our child, for how can one possibly, POSSIBLY PROVE, evidencially, against an allegation of possible future emotional harm??!!
    Whilst Sir James was in post, we felt there was some hope, a light at the end of the tunnel which was growing brighter as time passed and he was addressing some of the injustices of the family court system. Now, again we are uncertain.
    What did we learn from our experience to date of FC as LIPs in a private family law situation? What would I have Sir James and his successor know from what it did to our child and us?
    This is a tricky one, because if I tell it like it is do I risk some person or or other deciding that if the child were really to be that unhappy and distressed by overnight contact then would we be in fact culpable of causing the child emotional and psychological harm by upholding the court’s decision and facilitating such contact between the child and the other parent????
    So the bottom line is that we learned to be very afraid. Afraid for the child. Afraid of the court. Afraid of social workers (we had 4 complaints against the LA fully upheld and two partially upheld by outside investigators, and 14 recommendations for improvement and change were made to the LA by the investigators as part of the process).
    The other thing we learned is that parents are very frequently left in a Catch 22 situation. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
    We learnt that our child like others has been damaged by a court system which allows abusive revengful parent perpetrators to continue to inflict harm, post seperation, not only on their ex partner, but even more diabolically – on their own child/ren.
    What would I like from Sir James now? (Yes, I am that selfish). I still want Sir James to work to do what he can to continue to influence the FC system for the protection and safety of the children, who undoubtably are the most innocent of victims in this whole broken system. Because we have no confidence (including after considering the advice of our lawyer) that as it stands, we could return to court to further try to protect our child and be successful. In point of fact, doing so could make a bad situation even worse.
    So Sir James, if you are reading this, our hope and the hopes of many other parents lie in you and others like you. YOU can be the voice which our child does not have – the one who listens and actually takes on board what the children are saying. What change would I like to see in FC?
    Make standards of evidence in FC comparable with the requirements for evidence in the criminal court system. Give our children a chance to not only to be free from harm, but to be free from the clutches of those who should be prepared to protect them from harm themselves, but instead their own child as an ongoing weapon against the ex who got away from their abusive clutches in order to protect that very same child! And, last but not least, thank you for all that you have done to date!

  2. Lucy,

    I read your posts with interest via my email and invite if it is possible to make references on a website I am building, to add a link on the “blogs” page for viewers to read other bloggers post. I look forward to hearing from you.

  3. Well goodbye Sir James,your heart is in the right place but Alas, you are a self confessed failure…………….
    Maybe you can do better out of court unfettered by the dignity of high office?
    If you could bring yourself to campaign for the following three reforms ;who knows what could be achieved?
    1:- The Abolition of forced adoption.
    2:- The end of taking taking children from law abiding parents and putting them into care for “risks” of harm that may never actually happen.
    3:- (a)To allow freedom freedom of access to young children in care who too often suffer very significant emotional harm when taken from parents they may love at 6;30 am by uniformed police who remove their phones and laptops to isolate them from family and friends
    (b) To allow freedom of speech to those same children who are at present forbidden to speak to parents or each other in any foreign language ,forbidden to report to parents abuse or bad treatment by fosterers or social workers and forbidden to discuss their case with parents or the possibility of coming home eventually; FREE SPEECH IS FORBIDDEN FOR YOUNG CHILDREN IN CARE GAGGED BY THE STATE !

    Serial killers like Dr Shipman, Myra Hyndley,and Peter Sutcliffe, were allowed to phone out from prison and to discuss anything they liked with visitors yet innocent children are gagged and denied the same rights as those enjoyed by mass murderers ! How can this be right Sir James???

    • I’m not even going to bother correcting the obvious fallacies in that diatribe Ian. I will just take this opportunity to say I continue to encounter parent whose cases have been harmed by following your advice about going to Ireland.

  4. Familoo ! I never mentioned Ireland in what you describe as “my diatribe”However I should mention that,.I never advise any parent to go to Ireland without adequate Financial support.
    Noone on any blog has ever tried to correct what you describe as “obvious fallacies” re the appalling treatment of children taken into fostercare……
    If anyone including you familoo can justify treating these innocent children worse than convicted murderers and rapists I would be fascinated to hear it !

    • Ian. It is a diatribe. You don’t mention Ireland here but you do elsewhere and I think if I’m going to allow you to post comments on this post it is responsible to warn parents of the dangers of following your guidance. It’s far more broad than just financial assistance – parents are at risk of finding their children forcibly repatriated and placed in foster care on return, and their prospects of recovering their children even more remote.

  5. […] Lucy Reed has written her own reflections on Sir James’s legacy, including his engagement with social media, in a post on her Pink Tape blog: End of an era […]

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