From Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division
Some Designated Family Judge (DFJ) areas are piloting settlement conferences. In a settlement conference, a trained family judge adopts an inquisitorial approach in order to encourage cooperation between parties with a view to reaching an agreement that is in the children’s best interests. I know that opinions on settlement conferences are divided but, in my view, it is an approach that is worth piloting in order to inform decisions on whether to take them further.
Settlement conferences are already taking place in a number of DFJ areas. The pilots are supported by an ‘action research’ evaluation – led by social researchers in the Ministry of Justice – which has already identified important areas of learning for the pilot. Some of this feedback highlighted that family judges would find training and further guidance helpful before participating in the pilot in their area. This feedback has informed the drafting of a package of training and guidance materials.
- A training video outlining the settlement conference approach in both public and private law:
- Case summaries to consider alongside the training video:
- Settlement Conferences Protocol as to Basic Principles with Annexes 1 and 2
- Opening for judges conducting settlement conferences
- The strategy for settlement conferences roll-out
- Settlement conferences draft directions
- Information leaflet for parties
This pilot has my full support. I am keen that we understand whether, and how, this approach can lead to appropriate outcomes for children and families in a less adversarial context. I would like to encourage judges to consider adopting the pilot in their areas using these training materials.
The evaluation will continue during the pilot to seek the views and experiences of both judges as well as professional and lay parties. This will ensure lessons learnt and areas of good practice are shared and the settlement conference model is continually reviewed and improved.