At the recent conservative party conference, Dominic Raab, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, reportedly said that plans are being drawn up to make it easier for the Court to order financial penalties against parents, in child law cases, who are considered to be unnecessarily ‘clogging up’ the Family Court system.
The Secretary of State for Justice is reported to have said that he wants to see more alternative dispute resolution being used, including potentially directing that mediation be the default process in most family law disputes.
It is difficult to know exactly what these types of broad-brush comments will mean for future practice at this stage, but it appears at a minimum, the use of alternative dispute resolution will continue to be strongly encouraged to resolve disputes regarding children matters and that potentially, parents could face costs orders / financial penalties being made against them, if it is considered that their application(s) to Court are an abuse of the Court process/system.
It is already a requirement (unless an exemption applies) for an individual who is considering making an application to Court regarding children matters, to first attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. This is to ensure that the individual is fully aware, informed and has fully considered Mediation before they decide whether to make an application to Court. Upon attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, the individual may then decide to proceed with mediation, rather than Court.
Mediation has long been considered as an extremely effective way of resolving family law disputes. This is evidenced by the success of the recent government voucher scheme in relation to mediation. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, has recently noted that more than three quarters of family cases eligible for mediation vouchers have been successfully resolved away from Court.
These are impressive statistics that would appear to benefit all involved, as individuals who may have otherwise gone to Court, can resolve matters without Court. Mediation also avoids for those individuals, the potential costs and stress that may be associated with Court proceedings. In turn, the Court then benefits by being less overwhelmed with applications, freeing up valuable time and resources to devote to other cases that are not suitable for alternative dispute resolution / mediation.
Of course, alternative dispute resolution and/or mediation is not suitable for every case and it depends upon the individual circumstances of each case. Some cases will require an application to Court but for those that do not, mediation is clearly seen as playing a pivotal role in helping people resolve children matters and easing the current pressure on the Court system.
It will be interesting to see what specific plans are drawn up following the comments made by Dominic Raab but it appears that in addition to providing incentives to attend mediation (such as the voucher scheme), it is possible that in the future, there may also be potential penalties as a way of ensuring people give serious consideration to mediation, rather than Court.
To find out more about mediation and whether this could help you, read our blog on What is family mediation and how can it help me?