Responsibility, Law and the Family by Jo Bridgeman, Heather Keating and Craig Lind (eds)

AuthorRobert H. George
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.2009.00738_5.x
Publication Date01 Jan 2009
tasks. Butthese concerns must be balanced against the concerns of the substantive
law that the fact-¢nders are enforcing when they make their decisions.
Will ia m E. O’B ria n Jr
n
Jo Bridgeman, Heather Keating and Craig Lind (eds), Res pon sibi lity, Law an d the
Family
,Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008, 284 pp, hb d60.00.
One could be forgiven for thinking that family law must make a special pointof
choosing, as its central elements, ideas which defy clear de¢nition. The usual
example of such i ndeterminacy is the welfare principle, but the concept of
responsibility could also be put high on the list: responsibility is central to the
working of family law and family life, yet its precise meaning at any given
moment remains unclear. It is not even obvious whether the questions ‘what is
responsibility?’ and ‘what is aresponsibility?’ are synonymous or not; whether
being responsible and ha ving responsibility refer to the same thing. Despitehaving
existed close to the core of family law for at least 20 years, since the Children Act
1989 introduced the concept of parental respon sibility, responsibility in the family
context has remained curiously under-analysed.
The prospect of a sustained engagement with responsibility and the family
from 12 leading scholars, presented in the collection Responsibility, Law and the
Fami ly, will therefore be welcomed with some excitement by those working in
this ¢eld. The authors do not disappoint. Tackling family responsibility from a
variety of backgrou nds, and exploring many aspects of its multifaceted nature,
the authors succe ed in making great strides towards ‘the developme nt o f a critical
understandingof the responsibilities which family members have for one another
and the legal rules that frame that responsibility (275).
Responsibility, Law and the Fa mily contains 14 chapters, arranged in four sections.
This review starts bygiving an overviewof the chapters, aiming togive a taste of
the issues raised and tomake a few comments on each chapter. Once some ideaof
the book’s scope has been given, the review moves to a more general commentary
on the collection.
The introductory chapter, by Jo Bridgeman and Heather Keating, conceptua-
lises the idea of responsibility and starts the process of placing it in the family
context. The reader is o¡ered a brief summary of liberal conceptions of responsi-
bility (includingwork by H.L.A. Hart, Anthony Du¡ and John Gard ner),as well
as communitarian accounts (focused on the work of Amitai Etzioni) and more
family-speci¢c analyses (particularly those of John Eekelaar and Janet Finch).
There is also the customary overview of the book, suggesting where each chapter
¢ts into these debates.
Chapter 2 is a fascinating exploration of the question of whether we can use
responsibility to determine when people should and should not have children.
Michael Freeman’s title, ‘The Right to Responsible Parents’, is slightly i ncongru-
ous ^ perhaps‘The Rights and Responsibilities of Would-BeParents’ wouldmore
n
School of Law,Warwick University
Reviews
147
r2009 The Authors. Journal Compilationr20 09 The Modern LawReview Limited.
(2009) 72(1) 130^155

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