Address by Mr. Alan Shatter T.D. Launch of the Dolphin House Family Mediation Initiative

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Address by Mr. Alan Shatter T.D.

Minister for Justice and Equality

Launch of the Dolphin House Family Mediation Initiative

Dolphin House Courthouse 

16th May 2011

 

Chief Justice, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am very pleased to be here with you today; my thanks to the Chief Justice for his kind invitation. 

As a family law practitioner until very recently, I welcome any initiative which promotes the increased use, where appropriate, of mediation in family law disputes. I particularly welcome this initiative which is centred around the needs of children whose needs and interests should be paramount in any family law proceedings. 

The initiative is timely. This Government has inherited an economy in dire recession. It is an unfortunate social side effect of our economic situation that it brings intense pressure and friction to families.

So now, more than ever, it makes sense to deal with the issues involved in separation and divorce, including the very sensitive issue of custody and access, in a way that preserves relationships as much as possible. Negotiating and agreeing a fair and workable solution to avoid or conclude marital litigation makes a lot of sense for everyone involved, including the courts system itself. And the parties retain more control and ownership over the outcomes they choose in the restructuring of their family life.

The Legal Aid Board, I am aware, has been conscious of the potential synergies between it and the Family Mediation Service for some time and there had been some discussions between the two bodies in relation to how these might be harnessed to best effect.

I have no doubt that the availability of both mediation and legal aid services here in Dolphin House, providing a ‘one stop shop’, will encourage more people to avail of the mediation option when seeking to resolve disputes relating to custody and access, whether before or after the commencement of litigation. Certainly the initial indications since 21st March, when this initiative commenced, are very encouraging.

I very much welcome the active screening of cases by courts staff.  This facilitates suitable applicants being offered the option of an information session on mediation. Combined with the availability of an immediate information session followed quickly by a formal mediation process to assist the parties to negotiate their own agreement without the need for an adversarial court process.
 
The on-site availability of the Board’s solicitors to provide information and legal advice will help ensure that any agreement reached, especially one with long term family consequences, is only entered into with full understanding of the legal implications and obligations associated.


I would like to briefly refer to the issue of the use of mediation, not only in the context of this initiative, which focuses on custody and access, but in the broader area of family law and separation and divorce.

In her 2007 Family Law Report to the Court Service Board, Dr. Carol Coulter noted that of the 26,000 applications to the family courts in 2006, only 3% of applicants had any involvement in mediation, despite the availability of the FMS. I congratulate the Board on its very active role in encouraging and facilitating the greater use by its own solicitors of mediation and other options to resolve marital disputes. I am confident that the Board will continue to be a key driver behind the greater mainstreaming of mediation in family law disputes.

I should also, of course, mention the prominent support for the increased use of mediation and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms given by the Chief Justice and indeed other members of the judiciary. The Chief Justice, in particular, has, on several occasions, publicly championed the use of mediation as a vital tool in addressing court backlogs generally, not just in family law but as a means of diverting appropriate cases away from the highly pressurised court situation.   

I think it is worthwhile noting the economic and financial benefits of mediation, both to the parties themselves and society generally. It is estimated that the legal aid costs of a mediated family law dispute are about half those of a litigated dispute. In addition, the costs incurred by the State in providing such legal aid is off-set by the costs associated with litigation, such as court time, not to mention the psychological and physical consequences on the families involved, which may ultimately cost the State more.

I am delighted that this initiative has been put in place. I congratulate all the agencies involved in developing it and putting it in place. I hope that it proves to be not only an effective service to the public but will also prove to be a blueprint for such services in the future.


Thank you.