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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

25 MAR 2010

Sisters Sisters – and other Family Members

BARONESS RUTH DEECH, Gresham Professor of Law

I remind you of the theme that I set out at length in my first lecture and to which I wish to adhere - that there needs to be a reassertion of the place of morality in our private as well as our public politicians' lives, and especially so where there is an overlap between the two spheres. The overlap occurs where public policy issues like taxation, childcare and employment are affected by relations within the family. I want to ask why in English law we treat siblings less favourably than married or civil partners; and why we do not expect adults to maintain their parents or their grandparents in return for the keep that was extended to them in their youth. One has to wonder why English law only attaches support obligations to parents of young children and to those in a sexual relationship, while the blood relationship comes second.

There is a parallel here with the situation I have described in an earlier lecture: our government feels free, indeed obligated, to impress upon all of us, and sometimes coerce us, that we need to keep healthy by eating the right food, from children's packed lunches to supermarket shopping; we need to preserve the environment and stop flying, driving and using plastic shopping bags; that we must exercise, protect our own health and fight obesity; that we must not smoke, drink-drive, speed, drink to excess, fail to wear seat belts and safety helmets; we must breastfeed and abandon disposable nappies; sort our rubbish correctly, build sustainably and use low energy light bulbs and so on. Sexual activities however remain taboo as a subject of control. The fact that overpopulation is the biggest scourge of the environment has not led to any encouragement to limit births; sexual activity leading to neglected and abused children brought up in dangerous homes, or abandoned wives and emotional damage remains without disapprobation. It is acceptable to comment in public on someone's weight, smoking or failure to exercise but never to pass any judgment on sexual activity and its results that have caused more damage than any of the activities mentioned above. On the contrary, free sexual activity receives rewards from the law in a way that caring outside such a relationship does not.

To read the rest of this article, see April [2010] Family Law journal. To log on to Family Law journal Online or to request a free trial click here.

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