This group met last night at Westminster to discuss “What is marriage? What should it be?” . It’s chaired by the controversial MP John Hemming, and last night had two top quality speakers – the newly appointed Mr Justice Mostyn and Baroness Deech (the group’s vice-chair), each keen to say something controversial but both unhappy with the current state of the law of divorce. Mostyn J.’s basic point was that marriage is the most important of contracts, but its terms are undefined, a void which the Courts are filling haphazardly and inconsistently (my words not his, but that was the gist) when the contract breaks down. Having lamented his absence from the Spurs/Inter Milan game that evening, Mostyn J delivered the “reduced” history of marriage here and in Europe before he neatly contrasted the recent decisions in Radmacher v Granatino (economic partnership) and Imerman v Tchenguiz (partnership papers not shared), before asking whether the law as it now is on pre-nuptial contracts is what the public want, and delivering a plea for the Law Commission to sort out not just nuptial contracts but the legal context of marriage generally.
Baroness Deech shared the view that the current state of the law is unsatisfactory but showed greater concern for the gender issues, and offered the opinion that a Commission was a poor alternative, taking too long and covering moral as well as legal issues.
Where John Hemming and the speakers were agreed was in the observation that Parliament is noticeably reluctant to engage in this area, crying out for reform. Why is that and what form should that reform take?
To spark off your comments, my own view on the former is that its not a vote winner but a potential vote loser and any MP raising their voice on the subject in Parliament would have to anticipate a gruelling examination of his or her private life as such a debate hots up!
Anyway, with only the Law Commission’s report in 2011 on marital agreements to look forward to as a signpost to reform, if you’re not happy with the current law on marriage, separation and divorce, this Parliamentary Group looks like one of the better focus points at the moment, so contact it, attend its meetings and express your views – it can’t do any harm! As far as I know, until the movement gathers pace, your contact point is John Hemming MP, House of Commons. See you at the next meeting.