A novelist enters the Family Division

12 September 2014 by

71BL6-VNgqL._SL1500_In his prolific career, writer Ian McEwan has brought us into the minds of physicists, neurosurgeons, conductors,  cultural and cold war spies and even stalkers. His most recent triumph is to have stepped deftly into the life of a High Court judge in the Family Division.

The Children Act is a short novel of great subtlety and tenderness. In his acknowledgements he says he has drawn on a “superbly written judgment” by Sir James Munby evaluating a child’s best interests in a dispute over ultra-orthodox education of the child of estranged Jewish parents (see Karwan Eskerie’s post on this case). One can see how McEwan was inspired by the judge’s nuanced approach, in which he sought to balance the significance of social and familial links as against an individual’s wellbeing; after all, a novelist’s job is to explore the nature of unhappiness. How irresistible then is an institutional figure whose very job it is to determine happiness and its opposite?

So here we have McEwan’s narrator, 59 year old Fiona Maye, childless and on the edge of marital breakdown, tasked with the business of assessing how  each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. As Kate Kellaway says in her review,

One cannot help thinking that [the author] could have been an ace family lawyer, with his forensic intelligence and command of moral nuance. He echoes legal language plausibly too, and his deft in his journalistic ability … to weave debate into the narrative (passing references to Syria and the Leveson inquiry situate us in time).

There are no spoilers in this review but I hope I can impart and celebrate McEwan’s admirable grasp of quite what a difficult exercise it is for an adult stranger to determine what is in the “best interests” of a child where the way of life in dispute is not generally accepted by society as normal or modern, and the child in question is a highly intelligent individual months off his majority. The outrage that we all may feel at strange minority groups rejecting freedom on their children’s behalf may well have to be tempered when the child in question is clearly “Gillick competent”. Deluded though they may be, the protection offered by the community they find themselves in may count for more in the end than the autonomy offered by the secular modern world outside. Of course if the end is inevitable death for the patient, that seems a hollow statement indeed. But McEwan’s novel deals with precisely this conundrum, and one is left wondering, at its conclusion, whether kindness, which it is the task of the family court to assess, determine and then enforce, is something to be grabbed off the shelf. The principles that inform our current approach to a child’s best interests may render the ultimate adjudicator of that decision just as prone to guilt and regret as the ideologies that bring these cases into the Family Court in the first place.

Related reading:

 

Welcome to the UKHRB


This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.

Subscribe

Categories


Tags


Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus coronavirus act 2020 costs costs budgets Court of Protection covid crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Facial Recognition Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecutions Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania round-up Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials sexual offence shamima begum Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe

Disclaimer


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: