The inaugural Family Mediators Conference, run by The Family Mediation Trust on 26 May, opened with Mr Justice Cobb challenging the sector to stop using phrases such as 'Private Law' and 'Family Justice' for all family separations - to enable the redefinition of how family courts are used, and requiring a change in how we communicate with separating couples.
These messages were reiterated by Tracy Sortwell JP, who highlighted the backlogs that the courts are facing, both pre-Covid-19 and beyond. Tracy flagged up the frustration of having to make decisions as a magistrate for families when there are no safeguarding issues - on such matters as what school a child should attend, what sport the child plays, or which days each parent can see their child for years in advance.
The agenda moved on to look at the user groups who are accessing the family courts, with Lisa Harker from the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. It was clear that mediation is generating very little data, which makes it challenging for the sector to prove its value throughout the judiciary, or to our client groups.
Robert Creighton, who is Chair of the Family Mediation Standards Board, explored the critical importance of the sector establishing and managing itself in a way that is trusted by our partners in the judiciary.
The morning closed with Jane Bridge (PPC) looking at how the issues raised by the speakers will impact on her and the mediators she works with. Jane identified:
The afternoon moved on to exploring, in detail, two of the biggest issues mediators see in day-to-day mediation. Professor Gordon Harold gave a flying tour of child-related mental health issues, and the role of prenatal conflict. This presentation highlighted children's amazing ability to pick up on conflict between parents; and how it is then their interpretation of this conflict that can lead to mental health issues in the child.
Karen Osborne (from Leeway) and Adrian Wright (PPC) finished the presentations by exploring current thinking on domestic abuse, including a focus on the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill, and how Covid has impacted on the nature of and propensity for domestic abuse. Adrian brought these discussions back to mediation and practice for the audience.
As Chairperson for the day, I was amazed by the quality of all presentations and how each one helped to add to our understanding of the big issues affecting mediators. The feedback we've had from the event has been great:
This was a well put-together program covering topics very relevant to the mediation profession and conducted by an array of high calibre presenters. You produced a terrific conference, which I found thoroughly engaging, informative and useful; and that's saying something when we were sitting on our own in a room for 6 hours! I look forward to next time and being in the same room as others. Thank you all.
If you missed out on the day, you can catch up through the videos on our website.
So watch this space for next year!