Sorry to be so rude to Their Honours, but how would you describe a person capable of writing this sentence?
“A child’s best interests have to be assessed by reference to general community standards, making due allowance for the entitlement of people, within the limits of what is permissible in accordance with those standards, to entertain very divergent views about the religious, moral, social and secular objectives they wish to pursue for themselves and for their children.”
This reminds me of the American quip about a Polish godfather: he makes you an offer you can’t understand. Except that the author of the sentence isn’t a Polish mobster but Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division.
One of our leading judges, in other words, and if you aren’t quaking in your boots you’re made of sterner stuff than I am. If this is the best our legal profession can throw up, no wonder the country’s going to pot.
What on earth does he mean? Clarification, sir, please.
Sir James dutifully obliges: Britain may be a Christian nation, but judges “[are] secular… serving a multicultural community of many faiths sworn to do justice to all manner of people.”
Who exactly is sworn, judges or the community? Was His Honour’s address originally written in German and then translated into English by a Hungarian?
The confusion deepens, but trust Sir James to straighten it out: “We live in a society, which on many of the medical, social and religious topics that the courts recently have to grapple with, no longer speaks with one voice. These are topics on which men and women of different faiths or no faith at all hold starkly different views.”
So far so good, said a man falling down past a 20th floor window. People who live in Britain may differ on a number of points. I think we can all agree painlessly.
But then the pain starts, at first as a headache but threatening to afflict the area called gluteus maximus in the medical parlance. The common law, declares Sir James, must show a “malevolent tolerance” of cultural and religious diversity.
I don’t know what ‘malevolent’ means in German, as translated into Hungarian and then, by way of Chinese whispers, into English. But in the target language this word is generally free of positive connotations.
Yet the judge unwittingly put his finger right on it: the kind of tolerance he’s talking about is indeed malevolent. So much so that in effect it means its exact opposite: intolerance, specifically of Christianity and English legality.
“A secular judge must be wary of straying across the well-recognised divide between church and state,” explains Sir James. Who, to quote Byron, will explain his explanation?
Actually Britain is one of the few Western countries in which Christianity isn’t separated from the state, at least until the accession of our Defender of All Faiths.
This bit of trivia may be too arcane for Sir James, but he must have gone to law school at a time when they still taught the historical and religious antecedents of Western legality.
Surely he must be aware of the link between Judaeo-Christian morality and our common law? No, perhaps not.
But he definitely must have heard of equality before the law, the cornerstone of our liberties. That means one and the same law for everybody, which in this country means the English Common Law.
Sir James must also know that this legal system is based on precedents going as far back as we can trace them.
Now most of those precedents go back to the time when England was still a savage, backward land on which no light of multi-culti virtue had yet shone. You know, when she had chaps like St Anselm, Byrd and Shakespeare.
At that time judges hadn’t yet abandoned, as according to Sir James they now have “rightly” done, “their pretensions to be the guardians of public morality”.
Judges then understood that public morality was shaped by Christianity and the courts’ function was to translate this into secular justice. Those fossils hadn’t yet been imbued with the undoubtedly progressive idea, so dear to Sir James’s and Rowan Williams’s heart, that some elements of Sharia law must be recognised as valid in England.
Britain’s legal system, says Sir James, must tolerate anything society may find undesirable, provided the law isn’t broken. If non sequiturs were an Olympic event, he’d win the gold medal.
Not only Britain’s but any conceivable legal system is by definition obligated to tolerate anything that doesn’t break the law. What Sir James means is that our law should be replaced with another, expanded to include some Sharia provisions.
Not all, thanks be to Allah. Such provisions must be tolerated “so long as they are legally and socially acceptable and not immoral or socially obnoxious or pernicious.”
Sir James does explicitly brand as “beyond the pale” things like forced marriage, female genital mutilation and “grotesquely misnamed honour-based domestic violence”.
What about polygamy? Islam allows chaps to have up to four wives – how does this sit with family law of which Sir James is in charge? (A purely hypothetical question, as I hope my wife understands.)
Should our laws recognise polygamy for Muslims but not for Christians? Surely Sir James doesn’t mean that equality before the law has been abandoned?
And please, please don’t tell me that the stoning of adulterers will be allowed – I don’t want to see most of my friends emigrating.
I hope I haven’t done an injustice to Sir James by misinterpreting his pronouncements. If so, I apologise, but then I have little German and no Hungarian.
The real threat to this country isn’t so much genital as mental mutilation, both female and male. Look, even our top judges have fallen victim.