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Press release

  • 2 July 2008

Law conference puts the case for new family values

The complexity of modern family life and the need for the law to keep pace with profound social change and inequality are the themes behind a groundbreaking new conference at the University of Sussex next week.

The Gender, Family Responsibility and Legal Change Conference at the University of Sussex (10-12 July 2008) is one of the biggest of its kind ever in the UK, attracting more than 120 papers from academics and policy-makers worldwide, addressing pressing issues of family responsibility currently on the social, political and law reform agenda.

Organised by legal scholars in the Sussex Law School, the conference is the first to explore issues of gender as it relates to family responsibility in law - areas that continue to present problems for the courts and law makers.

Conference organiser and Senior Lecturer in Law, Craig Lind, says: "Families are changing and the law cannot ignore those changes. The Government has just announced legislation to give women priority when applying for jobs - what does this have to do with family responsibilities?"

A wide-ranging and fascinating selection of papers from international experts in law, sociology, social policy and philosophy will address this and many other questions, including:

  • How much is a short marriage worth?
  • Should unmarried couples walk away from relationship with impunity?
  • What are the responsibilities of absent fathers?
  • Should separated parents share their children equally?
  • Do IVF babies need fathers?
  • Should we allow womb transplants?
  • What should we do about "elder abuse"?
  • Should grandparents have a legal status in the lives of their grandchildren?
  • Does the 'Nanny State' know better than parents what's best for children?

Family law has to respond to some of life's most difficult - and controversial - experiences. It also needs to evolve and adapt to new experiences involving, for example, youth crime and parental responsibility, immigration, medical advances such as infertility treatments, social change and transformed family structures.

However, Mr Lind says: "Making changes to family law is notoriously difficult. Judges and law makers have - individually - very diverse understandings of the social and family responsibilities people have. Resolving them into the uniform patterns that a legal system needs is, therefore, almost impossible.

"At the moment there are a number of problems relating to the family that desperately need legal resolution. But it isn't just family law that must change - we will also be considering changes in employment law, corporate law, criminal law and immigration law."

The conference is the launch event for the Sussex Law School's new Research Centre for Responsibilities, Rights and the Law, which will foster research into responsibilities and rights in diverse subject areas ranging from child and family law to European law, and from international law to criminal justice and criminal law.

Notes for editors

For full conference details see


A line-up of international speakers includes:


  • The first woman Law Lord, Baroness Hale of Richmond who will speak about 'Family Responsibility - Where are we now?';
  • Judge Albie Sachs - anti-apartheid activist, civil rights champion and Nelson Mandela's appointee to South Africa's Constitutional Court (and academic family lawyer) will discuss the 'Unfamiliar Families' that are becoming the diet of judges in family courts;
  • Sociologist, Professor Barbara Hobson, from Sweden will consider the growing problems of gender and power particularly as they affect the position of fathers in society;
  • The holder of perhaps the most prestigious professorship of law in the USA, Martha Fineman (author of The Autonomy Myth) will reflect on her work on gender difference and the role of the state in rewarding the work women do in the family;
  • Professor Eva Kittay will ponder the problems migrant families cause for state regulation;
  • Jo Miles, author of the Law Commission report on the regulation of unmarried relationships, will talk about the financial consequences that ought to flow from family relationship given the gender disparities of wealth in society;
  • Professor Ratna Kapur, whose book, Alien Subjects: Gender, Migration and Law is about to be published, will speak under the title: 'Victims, Whores and Wives: Responsibility, Migrant Families, and the Construction of Female Subjectivity in Law.'

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing. Tel 01273 678 888 or email

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