JUDGE: FAMILY 'MELTDOWN' HAS WRECKED OUR SOCIETY
Mr Justice Coleridge
Sunday April 6,2008
By Geoff Marsh for express.co.uk
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A SENIOR judge launched an astonishing attack on the Government today over the fracturing of society.
During a conference speech in Brighton, Family Division judge Mr Justice Coleridge warned the breakdown of the family would, within 20 years, “be as marked and as destructive as global warming”.
The judge, 58, said that in urban areas family life was “in meltdown or completely unrecognisable”.
He said children born into broken homes were increasingly turning to drink, drugs and crime, and the results were affecting the mental health of parents and children across the country.
Venting his personal views, which he maintained many in the family law profession supported, he added: “In some of the more heavily-populated urban areas of the country family life is, quite frankly, in meltdown or completely unrecognisable.”
“In some areas of the country even including the more urban parts of the sleepy west in which I operate, family life in the old sense no longer exists.
“So I suggest the general collapse of ordinary family life, because of the breakdown of families, in this country is on a scale, depth and breadth which few of us could have imagined even a decade ago.”
“What is certain is that almost all of society’s social ills can be traced directly to the collapse of the family life.”
He said he was not criticising single parents and praised some of them.
He said: “I am not saying every broken family produces dysfunctional children but I am saying that almost every dysfunctional child is the product of a broken family.”
He warned of the “cancerous” spread of family breakdown and said “comprehensive action” was needed to halt a “downward spiral”.
He added: “And what is government doing to recognise and face up to the emerging situation? What is it doing to halt the decline or even reverse it.
“The answer is; very little and nothing like enough. It is fiddling whilst Rome burns.”
The judge, who is in charge of family courts in the South West, spoke before approximately 450 lawyers from Resolution, formerly the Solicitors’ Family Law Association at the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel.
Elizabeth Hicks, Resolution spokeswoman and conference delegate, said the Government urgently needed to introduce new legal reforms to better support families and stem existing delays in the court system.
“The current state of legal aid and access to justice is deplorable. It means ordinary people have real difficulty in finding a good family lawyer.
“It is well documented that the impact of separation and divorce on children has long-term psychological and emotional effects.
She added: “The legal aid reforms that have come into place in the last year have not worked, it is in dire need of some funding.
“There also needs to be changes in the co-habitation law, the current law in place is complex, based on antiquated trust principles and is not clear cut.”
She said the Government also needed to update the 35-year-old “confused” laws relating to divorce, to remove the “fault” element and blame from the process.
David Laws, the Liberal Democrat children, schools and families spokesman, said the judge was “absolutely right”.
He said: “This problem, however, has not only just emerged - we have seen these trends for at least the last 20 years and Mr Justice Coleridge is identifying fundamental issues which our society should have been seeking to address for some time.
“This Government is not the source of the family breakdown problem but policies such as the operation of tax credits have made it more difficult for some families to bring up children in stable, two-parent households.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Families and Schools defended the Government’s record on families and children.
She said: “Most children and young people in England today are safe, healthy, and achieve well.”
“We are absolutely committed to improving the wellbeing of all children, young people and families. We do not agree that there has been a breakdown in the family - 70% of families are headed by a married couple and a recent BBC poll suggests that three-quarters of people in Britain are optimistic about the future of their families, 24% higher than when the same question was asked in 1964.
“Our Children’s Plan puts children and families at the centre of everything the Government does.
“Parents have made it clear that they would like better and more flexible information and support that reflects the lives they lead, which is why we have pledged to improve support for families and invest over £250m in development of local services for parents - particularly focused on those who are in challenging circumstances.”