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President clarifies ‘misconceptions’ over settlement conferences

Latest View also addresses ‘tandem’ model

The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has sought to clarify misconceptions in relation to the settlement conferences pilot in his latest View from the President's Chambers.

The Association of Lawyers for Children recently published guidance to its members concerning the initiative. It advised its members 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 Association said that it was not clear how it was envisaged that children are to be independently represented, and their voices heard.

The President has now said:

"The ethos of the settlement conference is not to pressure parties to settle but to explore whether the candour and confidentiality of the process can help to reach common ground. Judges do not, and in my view must not, address parties in the absence of their legal representatives. A question may arise as to whether a judge should see one party, together with their legal representatives, on their own and without the other parties or their representatives being present. In my view very great caution is needed. Only in exceptional circumstances would this be appropriate, and then only if all parties expressly agree to the judge proceeding in this way."

The President adds:

"When the pilots come to be evaluated I will be looking closely to see whether the settlement conference approach compromises, in any way, the fundamental principles of our public law system such as the right to legal representation, Article 6 and 8 rights, the paramountcy principle and the importance of ensuring that the voice of the child is heard. I, and other members of the judiciary, will sit on the Advisory Group."

The latest View also addresses the 'tandem' model.

He notes:

"MoJ, with my support, is investigating whether there is scope for a reformed level of representation for children in public law cases and how a reformed model might work in practice. From my perspective, the focus of this is the question of whether, at certain stages in the proceedings and at certain type of hearing, there could properly be scope for dispensing with the attendance of some, or even, in some circumstances, all, of the child's professional team. But, I emphasise: so far as I am concerned, none of this can be allowed to prejudice the fundamentals of the tandem model."

For the latest and all previous Views, please click here.