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Matrimonial Causes Act should be ‘killed off’ says Sir Paul Coleridge

Mr Justice Coleridge to retire from full-time judicial duties next Spring

Sir Paul Coleridge has called for a "root and branch overhaul of both law and procedure after a prospective ie forward looking review of family policy by a non-political grouping".

Speaking to family lawyers at a conference in London, Sir Paul announced that he would retire from full-time judging in Spring 2014 to concentrate on his work with The Marriage Foundation.

Reviewing the state of family law and its procedure, he continued:

"I am convinced we need to be following other jurisdictions by being more innovative and much more daring in this field. I am also convinced that, save in rare cases, the days of the gladiatorial wars of the titans are over. The dinosaurs have had their day. I am sure that even the more intractable and difficult cases can be solved in a much more sophisticated and modern way and with altogether less bloodshed, time and cost."

Turning to the current state of legislation relating to disputes between couples, whether married or unmarried, he said:

"[T]he current divorce and financial provision law (not to mention the law relating to unmarried partners) is no longer, I suggest, fit for purpose. It was designed in a wholly different era to deal with a wholly different society and way of life. In the immortal words of John Cleese it is a dead parrot. It is no more; it has gone to meet its maker. Or should do. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 with all its layers of crustacean growth needs to be humanely killed off and given a decent burial and the heroic efforts of the Supreme Court to maintain the life support system need to stop. The Act has, quite simply, had its day."

He added:

"[T]he procedure too .... is now, I suggest, unduly clunky, slow and antediluvian. We made great strides in the 1990's .... But much more modern process by FDR, mediation, collaboration and arbitration or a combination of some or all is surely what we need and want."

Tony Roe of Tony Roe Solicitors, commenting on the call for 'out of court ADR', mediation and arbitration processes, noted:

"The legal aid cut backs mean that many more people are acting in person. It is inevitable that court delays will increase, as will the cost of 'traditional' litigation in family matters. It will not be long before lawyers and clients alike are exploring alternative routes more readily."

The speech can be read in full here.