Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-65)|
2 MAY 2006
Q60 Dr Whitehead: So we understand,
as part of the pilot scheme it did indeed permit people to simply
evade having anything to do with it by issuing proceedings in
District Judge Crichton: It is
not the scheme that permitted them to evade it except for the
fact that we could not make it compulsory, but there is freedom
as to where you can come into the system. You can come into the
system either at family proceedings court level or at county court
level so people who would have come into the family proceedings
court appear to have started going to the county court.
Q61 Chairman: I think they had been
District Judge Crichton: Presumably,
but that is because we had not been able to sell it to the practitioners,
which I thought was a fundamental part of what we should have
Q62 Dr Whitehead: Is there a benefit
in trialling a system rather than piloting a system? I would assume
by trialling a system this would be a general trial and not a
pilot in one or two areas, to have compulsory preliminary meetings
with mediators and perhaps that is it, indeed as envisaged by
section 31 of the Family Justice Act which has not been implemented
but could be?
Sir Mark Potter: I would welcome
it, but it has resource implications which I think are really
a very substantially inhibiting factor so far as governmental
support is concerned.
Q63 Chairman: So does a growing caseload
at the higher reaches of the judicial system to deal with these
Sir Mark Potter: I absolutely
agree with you. If one is going to be critical of government thinking
broadly in areas associated with family as well as this, there
is a terribly blinkered view that money spent in this accounting
year, the benefits of which will only be seen in later years and
probably by a different minister, is a reason not to put up money
now, although likely to save a great deal of money later.
Q64 Dr Whitehead: Is there any easily
correlatable relationship in the way you have suggested; the direct
relationship of money saved and money invested? I realise this
is a rather unjudicial question.
Sir Mark Potter: I do not know
how it would be costed. I think the best example is what has happened
in the last year simply with the early conciliation hearing in
private law cases now that it has been largely up and running
at county court, principally district judge level, and it has
led to early disposal of up to 80% of cases in certain areas.
That is a situation where the dispute has been gripped early as
soon as it is in the court system. Of course, some cases do not
work. Some, where there is violence are not amenable to conciliation
and matters of that sort, but it is a quite startling statistic.
We are now in the course of having discussions generally, involving
CAFCASS in the magistrates' courts as well as in the county courts
to move the scheme forward into the magistrates' courts, but that
is the principle of the thing. It is not mediation properly so-called
but it is an effort to make parties resolve their decisions early
as a result of some well-intentioned and skilled person guiding
them into that sort of agreement.
Dr Whitehead: Of the 62 people who did
take part in the pilot, was there any correlatable evidence in
terms of their outcomes?
Q65 Chairman: 62 couples or ex-couples
District Judge Crichton: It is
difficult to answer that question because I cannot remember the
figureit may have been one-thirdpulled out before
they had completed. We do not know why they pulled out. They may
have pulled out because they got the information that enabled
them to resolve their differences themselves. They may have pulled
out because they were not satisfied, but certainly they were told
at the beginning that they could come out at any time if they
felt that they could now resolve their differences. That was the
object of the exercise. I think that is an important thing to
stress because this was not just mediation. This was two quite
intensive information-giving sessions and you did not attend with
the other parent. You attended with a whole lot of other parents
but the other parent of your child went to a different session
and you had two of those sessions before you finally met together
with a CAFCASS officer to try to see if you could find a resolution
to your problems. The other difficulty is that we had hoped that
we would get people through the project within about eight weeks,
but that meant holding enough of those information-giving sessions
for people to be able to come either in the afternoon or in the
evening according to their work or childcare commitments, and
pretty swiftly one after the other. Because we never got the critical
mass of people into the project we were never able to hold those
sessions as frequently as we would like and therefore the project
took just as long as the court proceedings, which defeated part
of the object of the exercise.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
Thank you for giving us such a thorough analysis which I think
will be very helpful in discussing where we go from here. Sir
Mark Potter, Mr Justice Munby, Judge Crichton, Ms Damazer, thank
you very much indeed for your help this afternoon.