UK: Judge who criticised equal marriage receives official warning over conduct
A High Court judge who was previously warned against making public criticism of equal marriage legislation has now been disciplined for saying that married couples “have statistically a far greater chance of remaining intact than a cohabiting couple”.
In December 2012, Sir Paul Coleridge said that ministers should focus on supporting existing married couples, rather than the “wrong policy” of equal marriage, which he claimed affects only “0.1%″ of the population.
Sir Paul told The Times: “So much energy and time has been put into this debate for 0.1 per cent of the population, when we have a crisis of family breakdown.
“It’s gratifying that marriage in any context is centre stage … but it [equal marriage] is a minority issue. We need a much more focused position by the government on the importance of marriage.”
The High Court judge runs a charity to combat the breakdown of families, the Marriage Foundation.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph in July, he stated that “a married couple have statistically a far greater chance of remaining intact than a cohabiting couple.”
Sir Paul said: “Of course marriage is not a panacea; not every marriage lasts, but a married couple have statistically a far greater chance of remaining intact than a cohabiting couple. Our previous research has shown that 93 per cent of couples who remain together until their children are in their mid-teens are married. In other words if a couple is still together during the crucial teenage years of their children they are overwhelmingly likely to be married. And just 18 per cent of all couples with children aged 0-15 years old are still together but unmarried.”
Referring to government policy, Sir Paul added: “Last month, the Prime Minister agreed to include legislation to introduce a transferable tax allowance in the Autumn Statement, which would come into effect 2014-2015. The law would allow one spouse, who cares for the children, to transfer their personal tax allowance to their partner.
“The Marriage Foundation welcomed the move because it makes obvious sense for the government to support marriage. Parents who split up are disproportionally likely to need state support, care or intervention. This is partly because lone parents have to cope with fewer resources of time and money, and partly because splitting up can involve considerable family dysfunction. The bill to the taxpayer for picking up the pieces is a massive £46 billion a year. That’s the same as the same as the entire defence budget for 2014.”
Sir Paul Coleridge was subsequently handed a formal warning from the Judicial Conduct and Investigations Office (JCIO) for his comments.
A JCIO spokesman said: “Having considered all the facts, including the informal advice given to Mr Justice Coleridge last year, the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice consider Mr Justice Coleridge’s decision to give an interview and to participate in the article to be incompatible with his judicial responsibilities and therefore amounts to judicial misconduct.
“They have issued Mr Justice Coleridge with a formal warning.”
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Sir Paul said the decision was “disproportionate and unfair”, indicating that he had received wide support from other judges.
“I strongly disagree with the overall conclusion … which underlies this announcement that my occasional comments on the huge social problem of family breakdown or my public support for the Marriage Foundation amounts to misconduct or brings the judiciary into disrepute,” said Sir Paul.
“Indeed I think the contrary is true.”
Sir Paul accepted his work with the foundation may be “unusual and unconventional for a judge” but refused to accept that it was incompatible with his official duties.
“I regard the ‘formal warning’ … as a disproportionate and unfair reaction to a few lines in two newspapers,” he said.
Earlier this month, Sir Paul told The Telegraph that couples should not have children if their relationship is not stable enough to merit getting married.