Our Treatment Of The Vulnerable – Challenges For The Family Justice System



from Valerie Eliot Smith.

This is the text of a paper by Sir James Munby (lately President of the Family Division) delivered at the Royal Holloway University of London Symposium : ‘Inequality and Rights – Contemporary Challenges in the Child Protection and Family Justice Systems before and during the Pandemic’, which was held remotely on 16 March 2021. It is reproduced with kind permission.

My topic is important and topical, but time is limited so I must focus on a few key issues. I start with an obvious question: What do we mean by vulnerable? Who is vulnerable?

Who is vulnerable?

Before the turn of the Millennium, our understanding of vulnerability was limited. Vulnerability was not a term of art. A family lawyer if pressed might have suggested that the vulnerable included those (children and the elderly) unable to protect themselves because of their age; the physically disabled; and those who by reason of mental disorder lacked capacity to take decisions. Beyond that, the thoughtful might have identified those protected by the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976 and, perhaps, those protected by the equitable doctrines of undue influence and unconscionable transactions – though those were of course a matter for the Chancery Division, not usually the Family Division. But that was really as far as it went.


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