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ALC publishes guidance on settlement conferences pilot

Association expresses concern about parties’ right to a fair hearing

On the 1st July 2016, the Association of Lawyers for Children published guidance for its members on the pilot of settlement conferences in public law cases.

The Association's current advice to members is to consider very carefully whether it is possible for them to discharge their professional duty to their parent (and extended family) clients by taking part in such conferences. The role of separately represented children and the children's guardians is not mentioned in the guidance, and the Association is not clear how it is envisaged that children are to be independently represented, and their voices heard.

The ALC is very concerned about the parties' rights to a fair hearing as the settlement conference is currently being trialled by some judges. In particular, it seems that lawyers are expected to be present but not speak, and the judge comes down off the bench to sit with and persuade parents not to contest the case.

The Association considers that the scheme will seriously undermine public confidence in the fairness and transparency of judicial decision-making in the family courts.

For the guidance published by the Association of Lawyers for Children, click here. For more information about the settlement conferences pilot, published on the Child Protection Resource website, click here.