John Eekelaar (LL.B. (London) 1963; B.C.L. (Oxon) 1965; M.A. (Oxon) 1967, held a Rhodes Scholarship from 1963-5, and was awarded the Vinerian Scholarship in 1965. He was called to the Bar in 1968 at the Inner Temple. He was a Tutorial Fellow at Pembroke College from 1965 to 2005; he held a CUF Lecturership from 1966-91, and was Reader in Law until 2005. He was elected to a Fellowship of the British Academy in July 2001. He retired from teaching in 2005. From 2005 to 2009 he was Academic Director at Pembroke College. He continues research as Co-Director of the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy (OXFLAP).


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  • J M Eekelaar, 'Family Law and Legal Theory' in Elizabeth Brake and Lucinda Ferguson (eds), Philosophical Foundations of Children’s and Family Law (Oxford University Press 2018)
    This chapter undertakes an account of the way legal theories can assist in understanding family law, and suggests a possible 'theory' of family law.
    ISBN: 978-0-19-878642-9
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Rights Children should not have' in Gillian Douglas, Mervyn Murch and Victoria Stephens (eds), International and National Perspectives on Child and Family Law: Essays in Honour of Nigel Lowe (Intersentia 2018)
    A contribution to this Festschrift, giving reasons why in some cases children should not have the same rights as adults even though they may be fully competent.
    ISBN: 978-1-78068-641-7
  • J M Eekelaar (ed), Family Rights and Religion (Routledge 2017)
    The book provides a series of published articles covering Religion and Social Structure, The Family and the Transmission of Religious Identity, Religion and the Welfare of Family Members, Religion and Belonging and The Secular State and Religious Groups, with am Introduction reflecting on all these aspects by the Editor.
    ISBN: 978-1-4724-6476-7
  • J M Eekelaar, Family Law and Personal Life (Second edition) (Oxford University Press 2017)
    Second edition of book published first in 2006
    ISBN: ISBN 978-0-19-881408-5
  • Fareda Banda and J M Eekelaar, 'International Conceptions of the Family' (2017) 66 International and Comparative Law Quarterly 833
    This article examines the evolving way the ‘family’ and ‘family life’ have been understood in international and regional human rights instruments, and in the case law of the relevant institutions. It shows how the various structural components which are considered to constitute those concepts operate both between relevant adults and between adults and children. But it also shows that important normative elements, in particular, anti-discrimination norms, operate both to undermine the perception of some structures as constituting ‘family’, and to modify those structures themselves. This raises the question how far human rights norms should be seen as protecting family units in themselves or the individual members that constitute them
  • J M Eekelaar, 'A New Era?' in John Eekelaar (ed), Family Law in Britain and America in the New Century (Brill/Nijhoff 2016)
    ISBN: 978-90-04-30491-8
  • Mavis Maclean and J M Eekelaar, Lawyers and Mediators: The Brave New World of Services for Separating Families (Bloomsbury 2016)
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Marriage, religion and gender equality' in F. Banda and L. Fishbayn Joffe (eds), Women's Rights and Religious Law (Routledge 2016)
  • J M Eekelaar, Family Law and Personal Life (Chinese translation) (Law Press China 2015)
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Law, Culture, Values' in A. Diduck, N. Peleg and H. Reece (eds), Law in Society: Reflections on Children, Family, Culture and Philosophy: Essays in Honour of Michael Freeman (Leiden, Boston: Brill Nijhoff 2015)
    Building on Michael Freeman’s discussion of ‘relativism’, ‘monism’, and ‘pluralism’, the chapter considers what the terms of the debate which Freeman advocates should be. It is argued that any such dialogue should not simply compare the character and shape of communities, but must direct attention to the effects of such character and shape on the well-being of individuals within them. Then chapter then considers a criticism made by Prakash Shah of my earlier suggestion of a strategy of ‘cultural voluntarism’ regarding state recognition of minority practices. It is argued that the criticism wrongly constructed my position in purely ‘cultural’ terms, and that doing this makes constructive dialogue almost impossible because it is conceived of as a confrontation between cultures, rather than, as it might have been, as a debate about ideas which can have value in any cultural context, such as that which Amartya Sen calls the ‘capability approach’. I argue that such dialogue and discussion can only usefully proceed if it is accepted that the matters under discussion are individuals’ assessments of their own well-being, their significance to the individuals concerned, and how they are to be weighed against the interests of other members of the community and the nature of the community itself and that throughout history cultures, which seemed to their members indispensable and indestructible, have evolved, adapted, and frequently disappeared. This can be unsettling, but it is both true and important to remember, otherwise we are in danger of becoming so enamoured of the way we do things now that we fail to imagine that future generations will do things very differently, and try to obstruct these processes of change. Without the process, existing social arrangements would simply be self-justifying structures, and the opportunity for expanding sensitivity through discussion, use of evidence and hearing affected parties, would be lost.
  • J M Eekelaar, 'The role of the best interests principle in decisions affecting children and decisions about children ' (2015) 23 International Journal of Children’s Rights 3
    In this paper I examine how courts, and some other decision-makers, go about deciding what the best interests of children (BIC) (or ‘welfare’) principle actually are. In making this examination, I draw mainly on English legal decisions, supplemented by those of Scottish courts, the European Court of Human Rights and some other jurisdictions. I also put forward an hypothesis proposing a structure for applying the principle that seems best to reflect its purpose.The hypothesis argues that the answer is that where decisions are not about specific children, but affect children indirectly, the focus of the decision-maker should be on reaching the ‘best’ solution to the issue to be decided. It is not to determine what is in the best interests of the children affected. Those interests are part of the agenda, so must be taken into account, alongside other relevant matters, and must be given ‘primary’ attention among those other matters (though certain other matters may be given similar ‘primary’ attention). However, they will only be considered in order to ascertain the effect any proposed solution to the issue has on such interests, not as part of the process of deciding what is best for the child in its current circumstances. In contrast, in the case of direct measures concerning a child or children, the hypothesis argues that the focus of the decision-maker should be on discovering a solution that has the best outcome for the child, or children. But while it is common for certain assumptions to be held about what such an outcome looks like, this process goes beyond routine applications of such assumptions by examining a range of possible outcomes. In doing this, the decision-maker demonstrates acceptance of the possibility that conformity to accepted social arrangements may not be best for this child in these circumstances, and therefore that a child’s best interests are to be assessed by criteria other than mere social conformity. Indeed, the effect of such conformity is itself subject to evaluation.
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Perceptions of Equality: the Road to Same-Sex Marriage in England' (2014) 28 International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family 1
    DOI: 10.1093/lawfam/ebt013
    The article examines the backgroubnd to the treatment of same-sex relationships in English law and the progression to the enactment of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, analysing the positions advanced by participants in the debate.
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Family Justice on Trial - re A' (2014) 44 Family Law
    The article analyses the decision of the Court of Appeal which describes the process of a contact case as one of system failure, and suggests an alternative reading of the reported facts.
  • J M Eekelaar and Rob George (eds), Routledge Handbook of Family Law and Policy (Routledge 2014)
    A multi-authored and multi-jurisdictional survey of current developments in the central issues of family law and policy.
    ISBN: 978-0-415-64040-4
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Law and Community Practices' in Mavis Maclean and John Eekelaar (eds), Managing Family Justice in Diverse Societies (Hart Publishing 2013)
    Proposes a strategy for state law when interacting with norms of minority communities within the state which reconciles the values of respecting cultural identity with commitment to individual human rights.
    ISBN: 978-1-84946-400-0
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Then and Now: Family Law's Direction of Travel' (2013) 35 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 415
    By comparing reported cases from 1959-60 with those in 2011, the article reveals the way family law has changed over this period, becoming much more attuned to people's real problems. This has however thrown up difficulties in its application; some of the responses to these difficulties are considered.
    ISBN: 0964-9069
  • J M Eekelaar and Mavis Maclean, Family Justice: The Work of Family Judges in Uncertain Times (Hart Publishing 2013)
    Based on observations of court proceedings the book analyses the nature of activities in the lower family courts in England and Wales, showing them to be very different from the way they are commonly perceived by policy-makers. It sets these findings within an account of the place of justice in the resolution of family conflicts.
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Marriage - a modest proposal' (2013) 43 Family Law 82
    A critical account of ther law in England and Wales governing entry into marriage and suggestions for reform
    ISBN: 0014-728
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Positivism and Plural Legal Systems' (2012) 25 Ratio Juris 513
    This paper considers whether the positivist account of law is useful in guiding states in how they should deal with religious or customary legal orders followed by minority groups within their jurisdiction. It argues, first, that such orders can be said to exist despite the prevalence of disagreement about the grounds of law. It then argues, contrary to views advanced by Scott Shapiro and Joseph Raz, that there are good reasons for perceiving that the resolution of legal disputes by reference to moral principle involves the application of pre-existing law. However, the paper concludes by arguing that the Social Thesis has an important role in supplying the basis upon which the application of law can be deemed to be legitimate, and that this has relevance to the way states might respond to minority legal orders.
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Family Law - What Family Law?' in (ed), Fifty Years in Family Law: Essays for Stephen Cretney (Intersentia 2012)
    A discussion of the issue of recognition of the family law of minority communities, with special reference to sharia law in England and Wales
    ISBN: 978-1-78068-052-1
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Self-Restraint: Social Norms, Individualism and the Family' (2012) 13 Theoretical Inquiries in Law 75
    The paper argues that claims that individualism has overcome normative behaviour within families are incorrect, but also that state's should be cautious about translating social norms that operate within families into legal norms. Three types of approach to the relationship between legal and social norms within families are sketched, and it is suggested that one, styled "purposive abstention",should normally be preferred.
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Evaluating Legal Regulation of Family Behaviour' (2011) 1 17
    This paper centres on the distinction between norms related to family behaviour expressed through state law and practice and such behaviour itself. Such expression requires justification because it prescribes rather than describes social behaviour. It is maintained that a necessary condition for justification should be that the family-related norm enhances the well-being of individuals in the family, and that the application of this condition requires careful evaluation of empirical evidence, in particular, an appreciation of the relative effects of legal events and of social behaviour. The paper examines such evidence in regard to a number of issues.
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Naturalism or Pragmatism? Towards an Expansive View of Human Rights' (2011) 10 Journal of Human Rights 230
    DOI: 10.1080/14754835.2011.569300
    This article compares the naturalistic account of human rights in James Griffin's On Human Rights (2009) with the practical account by Charles R. Beitz in The Idea of Human Rights (2009). Taking Griffin's own examples, the analysis suggests that Griffin's account of human rights with regard to children, divorce, or marriage is unconvincing. However, while the practical approach is preferred, this leaves the basis for any universal duty to take state action for human rights violations uncertain. The article concludes by proposing an analysis of human rights that retains the advantages of the practical conception but accounts for the justification of international action through the principle of universalizability of moral obligations
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Not of the Highest Importance: Family Justice under Threat' (2011) 33 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 311
    The articles considers the reasons given by policy-makers for reducing legal aid for family matters and argues that they reflect a diminished sense of the role of justice in family relationships, and blindness to the role of lawyers in resolving family conflicts.
  • J M Eekelaar, 'The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill' (2011) 41 Family Law 1209
    An analysis of the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill 2011
    ISBN: 0014-7281
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Evaluating Legal Regulation of Family Behaviour' (2010) 1 International Journal of the Jurisprudence of the Family 17
    This paper centres on the distinction between norms related to family behaviour expressed through state law and practice and such behaviour itself. Such expression requires justification because it prescribes rather than describes social behaviour. It is maintained that a necessary condition for justification should be that the family-related norm enhances the well-being of individuals in the family, and that the application of this condition requires careful evaluation of empirical evidence, in particular, an appreciation of the relative effects of legal events and of social behaviour.
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Legal Events and Social Behaviour' (2010) 40 Family Law 1094
    A description of empirical evidence about the effects of family law on social behaviour
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Why People Marry: the Many Faces of an Institution' (2007) 41 Family Law Quarterly
    Accepted for the special issue on the Future of Marriage by this US publication in the Fall of 2007, the article draws on the author's research and UK legal developments to contribute to the debate over marriage in the USA.
    ISBN: 0014-729X
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Empowerment and Responsibility: The Balance Sheet Approach in the Principles and English Law' in Robin Fretwell Wilson (ed), Reconceiving the Family: Critique on the American Law Institute's Principles on the Law of Family Dissolution (Cambridge University Press 2006)
    ISBN: 0-521-86119-5
  • J M Eekelaar, Family Law and Personal Life (OUP 2006)
    ISBN: 978-0-19-953542-2
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Invoking Human Rights' in Timothy Endicott, Joshua Getzler and Edwin Peel (eds), Properties of Law: Essays in Honour of Jim Harris (OUP 2006)
    Analysis of the nature of human rights invocations, with special reference to the work of Jim Harris
    ISBN: 0-19-929096-2
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Deciding for children' (2005) 7 Australian Journal of Professional and Applied Ethics 66
    Discussion of the relationship between deciding issues about children on the basis ofrights and on the basis of welfare
    ISBN: 1328-4576
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Miller v Miller: the Descent into Chaos' (2005) 35 Jordans/Family Law 870
    Criticism of Court of Appeal decision on allocation of assets on divorce
    ISBN: 0014-7281
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Personal Obligations' in Mavis Maclean (ed), Family Law and Family Values (Hart Publishing 2005)
    A theoretical discussion of the nature of obligations in the family context, designed as providing a theoretical backgrounbd to an empirical research project
    ISBN: 1-841113-547-X
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Shared Income after Divorce: A Step too Far' (2005) 121 Sweet & Maxwell/Law Quarterly Review '1 [Case Note]
    Discussion of Court of Appeal Decisions in Macfarlane v M. and Parlour v P.
    ISBN: 0023-933X
  • J M Eekelaar and Mavis Maclean, 'The Significance of Mariage: Contrasts between White British and Ethnic Minority Groups in England' (2005) 27 Law & Policy 379
    Report of data from empirical study on the understanding of the purpose of marriage and obligations arising in domestic relationships, demonstrating differences between white British and ethnic minority respondents.
    ISBN: 0265-8240
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Children between Cultures' (2004) 18 International Journal of Law, Policy & the Family 178
    Discussion oflaw and policy when children are subjected to competing claims from cultural groups
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Helen Reece, Divorcing Responsibly' (2004) 31 Journal of Law and Society 272 [Review]
    Review of Helen Reece, Divorcing Responsibly
  • J M Eekelaar and Mavis Maclean, Personal Relationships, Marriage and Morals (Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Oxford 2004)
    Full account of rsearch project into perception of personal obligations by married and unmarried people
    ISBN: 0-9541 703-5-0
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Asset Distribution on Divorce - Time and Property' (2003) 33 Family Law 828
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Contact and Adoption Reform' in Andrew Bainham, Bridget Lindley, Martin Richards (ed), CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES: CONTACT, RIGHTS AND WELFARE (Hart Publishing 2003)
    Analysis of recent adoption reforms.
    ISBN: 1-84113-253-5
  • J M Eekelaar, 'The End of an Era?' (2003) 28 Journal of Family History 108
    Describing historical trends in family law
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Beyond the Welfare Principle' (2002) 12 Child and Family Law Quarterly 237
    Critique of the welfare principle
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Child Endangerment and Child Protection in England and Wales' in Margaret K. Rosenheim, Franklin E. Zimring, David S. Tanenhaus and Bernadine Dohrn (eds), A Century of Juvenile Justice (University of Chicago Press 2002)
    Overview of child protection law and policy in England
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Contact - Over the limit' (2002) 32 Family Law 271
    Assessment of policy initiative on contact
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Personal Rights and Human Rights' (2002) 2 Human Rights Law Review 181
    Theorising human rights, especially in the personal domain
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Asset Distribution on Divorce - the Durational Element' (2001) 117 Law Quarterly Review 552 [Case Note]
    Discussion of methods of allocating property on divorce
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Back to Basics and Forward into the Unknown' (2001) 31 Family Law 30
    Case analysis
  • J M Eekelaar, 'Rethinking Parental Responsibility' (2001) 31 Family Law 426
    Re-analysis of concept of parental responsibility
  • J M Eekelaar, 'The Politics of Pragmatism: Family Law Reform in England' (2001) 3 European Journal of Law Reform 297
    Survey of recent developments

Research Interests

Family Law, Constitutional Law, Socio-Legal Studies, Jurisprudence

Research projects