In my experience the answer to this is a resounding “Yes”.
Round-table meetings have become increasingly popular over the past few years, although it is less clear whether this is due to an increased emphasis on a collaborative approach or down to the current court listing difficulties.
To take part in round-table meetings you do not have to be collaboratively trained, but a shared ethos of ‘problem-solving’ rather than ‘case-building’ is a pre-requisite.
Recently a number of cases that members of chambers have been involved in have been ‘stood out’ of the court list at the last minute. The clients and their legal representatives have been told merely that there is no judge available or no court time.
When this happens, understandably the client feels very let down. They have invariably been desperately hoping for finality, have made arrangements to attend the court on that date and have spent both money and time preparing for the case. The client can then be left facing many more months of uncertainty about their financial affairs or child arrangements. Counsel who has (probably) spent the weekend preparing the case is left with an empty diary and the solicitor has to deal with the client’s understandable upset at the system and with the unpalatable fact that it may not be possible to retain continuity of representation for that client when the case is re-listed.
In several instances that I know of, a decision has been taken to have a round-table meeting on the day that the hearing was supposed to take place, and I am told that a good number of these cases have been resolved without the need for further judicial intervention. Of course, it may be the prospect of additional costs that focuses the minds of the parties but, in my view, this doesn’t account for the overall success rate of round-table meetings.
In other cases we have scheduled round-table meetings where things were moving in a productive way at the Dispute Resolution Appointment or Financial Dispute Resolution hearing yet there were certain “unknowns” or gaps still to be plugged such as the availability of an agreed contact supervisor or a mortgage offer. Of course it is theoretically possible for any such gaps to be bridged through solicitor correspondence but with the best will in the world correspondence on a case that is not to be heard for a number of months may not hit the top of the “to do” pile immediately and there is also a real risk that the parties themselves do not prioritise it.
Round-table meetings serve to focus everyone’s mind on that case and on looking for a solution. Quite often, in the course of such meetings, it becomes apparent that there is a seemingly small point that is blocking progress.
In one case that I dealt with it transpired that the wife didn’t want to have to deal with giving notice to the tenants in the investment property of the parties. Having established that this was the cause of the hold-up rather than an unwillingness to sell, the husband volunteered to deal with this aspect himself and things moved forward. In another case concerning children it became apparent that extended family members were causing difficulties that the parties themselves were able to put to one side and agree an order in the best interests of their children.
Where court listing is uncertain, another route to consider is using the arbitration process. This process gives the parties the option to choose their “judge” and to set a timetable for the decision that fits with their own family’s circumstances. If a case is pulled from the court list the parties inevitably end up duplicating costs, so arbitration can prove very cost-effective as well as giving a definite date for matters to be concluded.
For some reason, there has been relatively low take-up of arbitration, but these articles explain how the High Court has done much to support arbitration, helping to allay concerns and build confidence in the process.
Becket Chambers has arbitrators qualified in both Financial and Children issues. Please contact the clerks if you wish to obtain further information about the fees involved.
Holly Coates of Becket Chambers is a collaboratively trained barrister and can accept instructions through the Direct Public Access scheme. Holly discusses this in her article below:
Finally, the parties may want to consider mediation as a route to resolving the issues between them without the need to rely on the court process. Becket Mediation has mediators trained in Family and in civil mediation.