Table of Contents

  • This study has its origins in the Commonwealth Law Ministers' Meeting in Winnipeg in 1977. There, Law Ministers expressed concern at increasing delays over a broad front in the administration of justice. In their deliberations they canvassed a wide range of approaches, including legal advice and counselling which they saw as having the potential, if made available at an early stage, to resolve disputes before they reached court.

  • Interest in the reform of family law was one of the ways in which the optimism of the Sixties expressed itself in a number of the countries of the Commonwealth. Buoyant economies and a new-found interest in the rights of the individuals who make up the family - in particular children and women - helped to fuel the demand for reform.

  • “Because India is large and contains multitudes, because her people are old and carry over stubborn traditions, they tend to live in many centuries at one and the same time.…” “There is no generalisation so sound that startling and significant exceptions cannot be found to invalidate it; no area so large within the sub-continent that it provides a base for generalisations about the country as a whole”. These sentences appear in the opening essay of a YWCA study (1971) of the Educated Women in Indian Society Today.

  • “The diversity of family forms, and the extent to which some of these differ from the types traditionally associated with European communities, do not mean that a wholly chaotic family situation prevails…. On the other hand, it is equally inaccurate to deny altogether that instability is characteristic of many West Indian family forms”. These quotations from ‘The Population of Jamaica’ by the demographer George Roberts highlight the difficulty of giving a clear picture of the patterns of family organisation and the ways in which they function in that island.

  • Among the waves of immigrants who have settled in and developed Canada, the British have been the ones to stamp their language and institutions most effectively upon the country. Perhaps the centre of their influence is Ontario though it is also the province that has attracted the largest and most diverse groups of immigrants from other places. It seems therefore the province which would offer the best insights into the working of family laws and procedures.

  • The former colonies and protectorates of Britain in East and West Africa all have the problem of reconciling the legal systems of widely different cultures in their efforts to create stable independent countries. Because of the way in which it was settled, and the manner of its evolution into an independent republic, Sierra Leone is a particularly good place in which to look at the various elements of the problem. The “settlers” of the colony were not Europeans but freed slaves brought back to Africa from the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and England by Britain.

  • The manner of the settlement of New Zealand up to the middle of the nineteenth century, and the pattern of migration which it has since pursued, has resulted in the creation of a nation in which the dominant pakeha group is homogenous and strongly British. The Maoris, decimated by the diseases which the settlers brought with them, and defeated in the struggles to hold on to their land, have only since the middle of this century begun to grow again in numbers. With the increase in immigration of South Pacific islanders, the non-pakeha group is again a significant presence in New Zealand.

  • The ecclesiastical origin of English family law is still discernible, most noticeably in the pace and nature of its reform. The law which the settlers, colonists and administrators took with them around the world was based upon the Anglican Church's conception of acceptable family formation and functioning. In the previous chapters, examples of the way some Commonwealth countries have modified and altered this law to suit their own needs has been described.

  • From even this small sample of Commonwealth countries there is plenty of evidence that no one system of family law could be devised that would be appropriate to all its members. Though there are problems that they all share, and some, like the enforcement of maintenance payments, in which there has been much useful collaboration, each country has, in the field of family law, its own priorities and its own social goals. There is a shared concern about law reform in this area, but the problems addressed differ, as do the underlying reasons for seeking reform.