The designated family judge for London has launched a new initiative to bring alternative dispute resolution into the court system and encourage family cases to be resolved quickly.
His Honour Judge John Altman said he decided to set up the Family Solutions Court as he sensed the need for the court ‘to provide more than just a trial process’.
He told the Gazette that courts needed to be responsible at an early stage in understanding the issues and providing a forum to help identify the best ways of resolving a dispute.
‘Most litigants in person need to be able to have the work of a judge who can identify the issues and guide them to the best way to resolve them in a way that can reassure the parties that the course they take it a good one,’ he said.
The court, part of the Central Family Court in Holborn, includes a Citizens Advice Bureau, a contact centre which enables a judge to direct a defined period of contact, a ‘pro bono’ scheme, mediation and Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMS), a personal support unit and a programme focusing on the needs of children whose parents have separated.
The court also has case-management and timetabling powers to bring matters to a conclusion with less delay than other informal means of dispute resolution.
It aims to resolve family disputes early through a first-hearing dispute resolution appointment where the court will identify issues and advise parties on whether to use a form of resolution included within the court.
Altman said: ‘In the end in a case, a trial may be the only solution, but we consider that the responsibility of the family court in the present day is to draw into its processes all the agencies that can lead to the best solution.’
David Emmerson, who leads family solicitor group Resolution’s work on legal aid and was involved in the development of the court, said the ‘secret of the success’ will be in the coordinated approach from judges to other services.