The delays and inefficiencies in the family justice system have been well documented, as has the fact that the pandemic has made a bad situation worse. Delays and last minute hearing cancellations are everyday features of the system, despite the best efforts of practitioners and the judiciary.
These issues were highlighted in a recent report from the Family Solutions Group led by Mr Justice Cobb. All agree that an overhaul of the system is needed but that this will take time. In the meantime creative practitioners, supported by the judiciary are advocating a "new way". This movement was formerly known as The Surrey Initiative (where it originated) but has gained national support and has now been re-named The Family Solutions Initiative.
What is the new initiative?
It is a concerted effort to steer separating parties away from the resource-challenged court and towards the numerous and varied "out of court" options which, if adopted should significantly reduce costs and delays, but most positive of all should help reduce hostility.
The initiative reminds us all that children and their welfare should be placed at the core of any family dispute resolution process. By adopting this new way of working, families will be supported to achieve better outcomes after resolving their issues in more constructive and less adversarial ways than the traditional court based model.
How does the initiative work?
The initiative is "part carrot, part stick". Standard protocol letters are sent by one party’s adviser to the other proposing alternative dispute resolution options, and providing pricing information for each. A response is sought within 14 days. The letters highlight the consequences (financial and otherwise) of failing to consider and engage in an alternative process. Crucially it is explained that the protocol letter will be shown to the court if one party unreasonably rejects these suggestions and a court application is initiated. Parties refusing to adopt a reasonable stance could be penalised by costs orders against them if they insist on unnecessarily using the court. Judges are also encouraged to promote non-court resolution options and to adjourn hearings to allow parties to attempt them.
For more information on the options promoted by the Family Solution Initiative, please contact a member of our family team.