In a recent speech at a London Family Law conference Sir Paul Coleridge, who has been a High Court judge since 2000, announced he would be retiring from the judiciary in Spring 2014. He also called for new legislation to replace the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 urging for it to be “killed off.”
Sir Paul worked for over 30 years as a Family Law barrister before being appointed to the judiciary. He has made a number of leading decisions including judgments that have affected this firm and indeed Family Law as a whole.
Over the past two years Sir Paul has attracted a controversy by encouraging couples to stay together and publically protesting against the “scourge” of “celebrity divorce.” He came up with the idea and was a founding member of the Marriage Foundation. His latest speech compared the 1973 Act to John Cleese’s dead parrot in the Monty Python skit of the same vintage. He called for more emphasis on alternative dispute resolution and also made reference to the need to introduce more legislation for unmarried couples.
The 1973 Act remains the main piece of legislation for divorces and financial settlements and has been heavily amended since 1973. It is often criticised as it works upon the traditional notion of a fault-based divorce, ie: “unreasonable behaviour” or adultery which encourages animosity between divorcing couples.
A concerted attempt was made by Parliament to reform divorce and financial proceedings with the 1996 Family Law Act which emphasised mediation and abolished “fault-based” divorce. However, only one part of the Act was brought into force when the Labour Government was elected in 1997 and the rest of the act has been shelved indefinitely. It remains to be seen whether the Coalition Government now will now heed the call for further reform.