Nick Brown

Thesis title: Why does family law treat FGM and male circumcision differently?

Start year: 2020


Supervisor(s): Professor Peter Edge

Research topic

Family law draws a fundamental distinction between the significance of Female Genital Mutilation (“FGM”) and male circumcision.  FGM is a criminal abuse of human rights which can never fall within the scope of reasonable parenting.  Circumcision, by contrast, is in principle reasonable and therefore not a basis upon which the state can seek to intervene in family life and remove children from their parents’ care.  Whilst the literature in the field includes examples of challenges to this different treatment, there is a lack of sustained and detailed consideration of the reasons given for that in the specific context of family law with there being a particular lack of focus on the fundamental nature of family law and what that may tell us about the reasonableness or otherwise of the distinction drawn between the practices.

With a focus on how these practices effect children, I intend to research and argue how it may be right to conclude that there is a fundamental distinction to be drawn between FGM and circumcision but that the reasons given for that distinction in the leading case law authorities may be inadequate and may be reasons that do not get to the heart of why these practices are treated differently.

Specifically, I intend to argue that reasons which focus on past legal precedent, religion and health issues are reasons that can be criticised for focussing on superficial or false distinctions and that the true reasons for the different treatment are concerned with the fundamental nature of law in contemporary democratic society.
In particular, the reasons for the different treatment are perhaps likely to be concerned with five key points.  First, what is reasonable - for the purposes of family law - is intimately connected to (albeit not coterminous with) what has been common or conventional practice previously and circumcision, unlike FGM, has been a practice widely familiar to this jurisdiction for centuries.  Secondly, the law has limits and it would perhaps be impossible for the democratic state, absent massive societal change, to deem circumcision unreasonable. Thirdly, for the purposes of family law and state intervention in family life the bar for reasonable parental conduct is fairly low - which is to say that the law accepts and tolerates a diverse range of parental choices and actions including ones which are arguably or even demonstrably harmful.   Fourthly, the legitimate “felt necessities” of contemporary democratic society rightly include (a) the protection of women and girls from all forms of violence and (b) the protection of the rights of religious minorities, notably those of the Jewish and Muslim communities.  Fifthly, despite the unqualified terms of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination is not, in fact, absolute.  It may be subject to exceptions as demanded by society or putting it another way, it can be departed from where “some good reason can be shown”.


Family law, Human Rights, Religion, Politics

General research interests

Family law, Human Rights, Religion, Politics

Academic school / department

School of Law and Social Sciences


  • Striking Out the Strike Out: Private Law Fact-Finding Hearings and Weak Allegations [2009] Fam Law 687
  • Safeguarding Children Living with Trauma and Family Violence, Evidence-Based Assessment,
  • Analysis and Planning Interventions [2010] Fam Law 213 (Book Review)
  • Different Approach to Children’s Allegations [2011] Fam Law 430
  • The Retention of Children after Contact Part 1: Core Principles [2011] Fam Law 497
  • The Retention of Children after Contact Part 2: Ex Parte and On Notice Hearings [2011] Fam Law 623
  • The Retention of Children after Contact Part 3: The Role of Cafcass and Other Considerations [2011] Fam Law 708
  • FGM and the Redundancy of the Term “Male Circumcision” [2017] Fam Law 88

Professional information

Memberships of professional bodies

  • St Philips Chambers
  • Lincoln’s Inn
  • The Midland Circuit
  • Family Law Bar Association
  • West Midlands Family Law Bar Association

Further details

Academic and professional training

  • 1995 - 1999: Theology & Religious Studies BA (Cambridge: First Class)
  • 2002 - 2003: Herchel Smith Scholar (Harvard)
  • 2003 - 2004: GDL (Oxford Brookes: Distinction) and Lord Bowen Scholar (Lincoln’s Inn)
  • 2004 - 2005: BVC (Inns of Court School of Law: Outstanding) and Lord Denning Scholar (Lincoln’s Inn)

Other experience and professional activities

Prior to my training to become a Barrister I studied at Cambridge and Harvard.  I also worked as a political lobbyist in Westminster.

I completed the Graduate Diploma in Law at Oxford Brookes in 2004 and obtained a Distinction.  In 2005 I completed the Bar Vocational Course at the Inns of Court School of Law in London and was graded Outstanding.  During the course of my law studies, I was also awarded Lord Bowen and Lord Denning scholarships by Lincoln’s Inn.

In 2006 I completed a broad-based pupillage at St Philips Chambers in Birmingham and, as a new tenant, practised across a range of fields. I now practice in the area of Care Proceedings and also have an interest in cases involving Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation.

I have joined with other members of Chambers in providing seminars and lectures to Solicitors and Social Workers throughout the West Midlands. A number of the cases I have been instructed to act in have been of sufficient legal significance to be published and I have published a number of articles in the area of Children Law.  Those on the retention of children after contact were short-listed for the inaugural LexisNexis Family Law Awards and have been taught at University level (Oxford Brookes, LAW-6017 Family Law).  I have also recently become a Pupil Supervisor.