Courts are Secular not Sacred
31 October 2013 by Marketing Team
This was the subject of a key note address to a Law Society conference this week, given by Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division. He spoke of the “enormous challenges” facing today’s society, which is made up of believers in many different religions, and none at all.
“We live in a society, which on many of the medical, social and religious topics that the Courts recently have to grapple with, no longer speaks with one voice” he said. These are topics on which men and women of different faiths or no faith at all hold starkly different views. All of these views are entitled to the greatest respect, but it is not for a Judge to choose between them.”
Indeed, it has been the Family Division and also the Court of Protection that has dealt with a number of very difficult issues, involving children and vulnerable adults. From the House of Lords decision authorising the separation of two Siamese twins to more common cases involving decisions of the Court whether a young woman with severe learning difficulties should be sterilised, or children receive blood transfusions, the Courts have encountered religious, philosophical and moralistic arguments, but has dealt with them on legal principles without regard to religious texts.
Sir James Munby referred to one case in the Court of Appeal where a marriage had taken place between two people, regarded valid both under Sharia Law and the law of the country in which it took place, but which was not recognised by the English Court because one of the parties clearly did not understand what type of transaction had taken place and certainly not that it was a marriage nor did that person understand the significance of the ceremony.
The Judge’s lecture has provoked strong comments on the Law Society’s website, many of them critical, but for different reasons.
It does remain curious that, while the Courts have effectively abolished the use of Sworn Affidavits, replacing them with a simple “Declaration of Truth”, witnesses routinely take the oath in the witness box on a bible or other religious book. It seems unlikely in this day and age that God or any other figure would descend from the clouds to punish a witness who has not told the whole truth. Imprisonment for perjury is the more likely consequence.