The Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, has reportedly been considering further reforms to the family and civil justice systems, after saying in a speech to the Conservative Party conference that, in his view, too many cases are going to court.
Raab is said to be looking to draw up plans to make mediation the "default" in family cases, save for those involving issues of domestic abuse and child safeguarding. He is also considering making it easier for judges to make costs orders against parties they consider to be "abusing" the court process.
It remains to be seen whether and when detailed proposals are forthcoming. In principle, most family lawyers would welcome an ever greater emphasis on mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution, and many would also be pleased to see a return to a somewhat more liberal use of costs orders against unreasonable, uncooperative and vexatious litigants. However, any such reforms need to be very carefully considered and consulted upon.
It is undoubtedly the case that many more cases could be dealt with at mediation than at present. However, for a variety of reasons (and not only domestic abuse and safeguarding), there are always going to be a number of cases that are going to be impossible to settle through mediation, and it is important that parties are not compelled to waste time and costs on alternative dispute resolution that is ultimately going to prove futile. It should go without saying that there must also be robust protections in place to prevent victims of domestic abuse from being pressured to mediate with their abusers.
Ultimately, one major concern will be that the proposed reforms are more about money than effective justice. The government should do everything it can to encourage alternative dispute resolution. Ultimately, though, trying to drive divorcing couples and warring parents out of the court system when they might need it, is not a viable or reasonable alternative to funding it properly - something that three successive governments over the last decade have steadfastly refused to do.
Parents could face costs order for clogging up family court