In Focus – The Rt. Hon Sir James Munby, President Of The Family Division

Sir James MunbySir James Munby is the most senior family judge in England and Wales.

Since his appointment as President of the Family Division and the Court of Protection on 11th January 2013, Munby has been making it his mission to transform the family courts, making them more transparent, efficient and user friendly.

In January this year he handed down guidance to family court judges, urging them to make information about their judgements and reasoning public, unless there was a significant reason not to.

The new guidance was intended to bring about “an immediate and significant change in practice in relation to the publication of judgments”.

Munby said of the new guidance: “In both courts there is a need for greater transparency in order to improve public understanding of the court process and confidence in the court system. At present too few judgments are made available to the public, which has a legitimate interest in being able to read what is being done by the judges in its name. The guidance will have the effect of increasing the number of judgments available for publication.”

On the 22nd April this year, widespread changes to the way the family courts are run and organised were brought in across England and Wales. The Single Family Court has now replaced the previous system and it is hoped that that the new court will help to reduce delays, especially in cases involving children.

Munby was the judge who presided over the tumultuous divorce of Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer and his second wife, Carolyn Freud. Munby famously enraged Earl Spencer by refusing to allow the high profile couple to divorce in private, meaning that their financial settlement became public.

A Life in family law

Sir James Lawrence Munby was born on 27th July 1948. He is an Honorary Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, where he studied as an undergraduate. His legal career started when he was Called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 1971, he went on to practise as a barrister at New Square Chambers.

He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1988 and then appointed as a High Court Judge on 2nd October 2000, assigned to the Family Division and the Administrative Court.

Munby was appointed as Chairman of the Law Commission on 1st August 2009, replacing Lord Justice Etherton. On 12 October of that year, he was appointed a Lord Justice of Appeal, receiving the customary appointment to the Privy Council. His term as Chairman of the Law Commission expired in August 2012.

On 11 January 2013, he succeeded Sir Nicholas Wall as President of the Family Division, his current post.

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