In May and June 2023, JUSTICE responded to two linked consultations on the earlier resolution of private family law arrangements.
The first, by the Family Procedure Rule Committee in connection with the MOJ, sought views on various changes to the Family Procedure Rules to strengthen the existing provisions around attendance at Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (“MIAMs”) and to encourage more people to attend mediation or other forms of non-court dispute resolution.
The second, by the Ministry of Justice, sought views on proposals to make mediation mandatory in private family cases, with exemptions for domestic abuse and child protection cases, and to impose cost sanctions for unreasonable refusal to mediate.
JUSTICE responded to both consultations informed by our 2022 Working Party, Improving Access to Justice for Separating Families. JUSTICE’s responses highlighted the lack of evidence for the proposals; the risk of the proposals becoming a barrier to justice for the vulnerable parties the family court is there to protect; and the risk of the proposals reducing opportunities for children’s voices to be heard, as is their right under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. JUSTICE concluded that the proposals for mandatory mediation with costs sanctions, even with exemptions for child protection and domestic abuse cases, would amount to an unacceptable and disproportionate interference with an individual’s right to access the courts under Article 6, and the procedural protections included in the right to a private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
As a result, JUSTICE was unable to support the majority of the proposals in both consultations.
Throughout both responses, JUSTICE highlighted alternative policy solutions to better inform, advise and support separating families to resolve their problems safely, fairly and sustainably, based on our Working Party’s findings and recommendations. These included an online information platform, publicly funded early legal advice, networks and hubs of multi-disciplinary services for separated families, public funding support for a variety of non-court dispute resolution, including but not limited to mediation, and support for the additional cost of child inclusive out of court processes.
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