Sir Paul Coleridge's views on marriage
6th January 2014
Sir Paul Coleridge, a judge of the high court Family Division, is also the founder and chairman of The Marriage Foundation, a think-tank that promotes the institution of marriage by offering support and information and by engaging in public debate. Nor is Mr Justice Coleridge himself a stranger to public debate, having incurred the glare of the media spotlight at regular intervals during the past year following a formal warning for judicial misconduct in relation to his comments about marriage made in The Telegraph and The Times.
The remarks that prompted the disciplinary measures included his categorisation of same-sex marriage as a “minority issue” and his claim that marriage is far more likely than cohabitation to offer the degree of stability necessary to raise children. Whatever one’s views on the substantive content of Mr Justice Coleridge’s comments, the point of principle concerned – namely whether these actions are incompatible with his judicial responsibilities – is equally important.
Impartiality of the judiciary
The impartiality of the judiciary is enshrined at the heart of our legal system, and judicial conditions of appointment state that a High Court judge “must expect to forgo any kind of political activity and be on their guard against circumstances arising in which their involvement in any outside activity might be seen to cast doubt on their judicial impartiality or conflict with their judicial office.”However, given that the judiciary is made up of a number of the country’s most intelligent minds and eloquent voices, it is surely natural that each has well-formed beliefs and opinions, whether or not they seek to express these in public. The ultimate issue is whether these beliefs affect their ability and inclination to do justice, “without fear or favour, affection or ill-will” as they have sworn to do, though it is surely inconceivable that any person could rise through the ranks of the Bar and the judiciary without being perfectly able to separate their personal beliefs from their professional duties.Mr Justice Coleridge has now announced that he will be stepping down from the judiciary this year, five years earlier than he might have done. Whatever his personal beliefs, the Family Division will surely feel the departure of such an experienced and insightful mind very keenly indeed.