In praise of: Sir James Munby
Marc Bloomfield
Sir James Munby retired as president of the Family Division at the end of July. He remained outspoken on the cause of access to justice right up to his last days in office.
Speaking at the sixth annual ‘Voice of the child’ Family Justice Young People’s Board conference, in his last week as president, he lambasted the government for not dealing with the problem of alleged victims of abuse being cross-examined by the alleged perpetrators, or, indeed, the needs of other vulnerable witnesses. In typically incisive style, Sir James criticised the government’s failure to find parliamentary time to bring forward the necessary legislation when it had managed to decide whether ‘a person hearing bankruptcy cases should be called a registrar or a judge’ in the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill.
Access to justice was a preoccupation of Sir James throughout his term in office. At one point, it looked as though one of his judgments (Q v Q [2014] EWFC 31) would lead to an alternative, court-based system of public funding in some cases in which parties could not access legal aid. In a related judgment (Re D (A Child) [2014] EWFC 39), he described the then justice secretary Chris Grayling’s legal aid policy as ‘unprincipled and unconscionable’.
To mark his retirement his colleagues came up with a great leaving present for Sir James, who was a train buff long before he was a lawyer. A one-third scale working steam locomotive was named ‘The Flying Munby’ for the day at a model railway in Kent. Legal Action rather hopes he’ll become known as the ‘Campaigning Munby’ in his retirement years, rather than for his association with railways.

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