The position is that I intend to publish the Mediation Bill later this year. The Bill, which is currently at an advanced stage of drafting, will promote mediation as a viable, effective and efficient alternative to court proceedings, thereby reducing legal costs and speeding up the resolution of disputes.
The forthcoming Bill will introduce an obligation on solicitors and barristers to advise any person wishing to commence court proceedings to consider mediation as a means of resolving the matter before embarking on such proceedings. It will also provide that a court may, following the commencement of any such proceedings, on its own initiative invite parties to consider the mediation option and suspend the proceedings to facilitate such a process.
Mediation is, however, a voluntary process and I have no plans to make it mandatory in family law cases. As the Deputy is aware, I am strongly in favour of mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution, especially in the area of family law. Where the parties can reach agreement without recourse to the courts, it is generally better for them and in particular for any children they may have. Such agreed solutions can create better and more sustainable outcomes for the family concerned.
It has to be recognised however that not all cases are suitable for mediation. It may not be appropriate, for example, where there are entrenched disputes or a serious imbalance in power between the parties. It would also be inappropriate to require the parties to engage in mediation in cases involving domestic violence. While I will continue to promote and support mediation and other forms of dispute resolution where feasible and appropriate, I do not intend to make it mandatory for family law cases.