Sir Paul Coleridge has retired from the High Court’s Family Division calling for action to ‘stem the tide’ of family breakdown in the UK.
A senior judge has called for action to ‘stem the tide’ of family breakdown – as it was revealed Britain has more failed marriages than almost any other country.
Sir Paul Coleridge retired from the High Court’s Family Division on Thursday after he was formally warned over campaigning for marriage.
He said he could not ‘sit here day after day’ seeing the effect of family breakdown without speaking out against it.
In December he was reprimanded by heads of the judiciary after setting up the Marriage Foundation think tank and airing views in a newspaper article.
At a retirement ceremony yesterday, Sir Paul said: ‘I know how consoling and good a good marriage can be and how it gets better over the years and also how ghastly family breakdown can be. Something can and should be done to stem the tide of family breakdown.
‘Family judges have a unique experience of this and therefore a unique contribution to make.
‘We should not be afraid to speak out … I cannot sit here day after day watching misery and doing nothing.’
Sir Paul’s comments came as an international report found barely half of UK adults are married – and almost one in ten are divorced or separated. Only four countries in the West have a higher proportion of divorcees who have not remarried.
Last night Norman Wells, of campaigners Family and Youth Concern, said the rise in unmarried cohabitation, outlined in the report, was a ‘disaster for children’ as it meant their parents were more likely to separate.
Tory backbenchers blamed the high number of divorcees on the fact Britain does not recognise marriage in the tax system.
Sir Paul, writing in the Mail in December, also said tax breaks for married couples would send a ‘positive message’ and that marriage should be put ‘at the heart of our social structure’.
In January, the Marriage Foundation called for the Government to encourage marriage and persuade couples with young children to stay together.
The report, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, found Britain’s marriage rate has halved since 1970, when it was one of the highest in the industrialised world.
It is one of the sharpest drops among Western nations – to 22nd out of 34 ranked by the OECD study.
And the divorce rate has doubled over the same period. Just 50.6 per cent of adults in the UK are married and still living with their spouse – below the average for similar countries.
Last night, Tory MP David Burrowes said: ‘These figures are depressing and should be a wake-up call to get alongside the institution of marriage and do more to prevent the £45billion cost of family breakdown.’
He added: ‘Britain is out of step with the rest of the OECD in not recognising marriage in the tax system … We need to do more to support couples before, during and throughout their marriage – and the Church could take a lead in that.’
The OECD report shows 10.5 per cent of British adults live with a partner, and almost a quarter are single and have never married. A further 7.2 per cent are widowed.
The rest – 9.4 per cent – is made up of divorcees and those who have separated – the fifth highest proportion in the world, behind the Czech Republic, the US, Finland and Estonia.
While the OECD figures showed that Britain’s marriage rate fell from 8.47 per 1,000 people in 1970 to just 4.43 per 1,000 in 2010, there has been a small increase in recent years, according to the Office for National Statistics.