A Settlement Conference is a meeting between people involved (in particular in public law) in children act proceedings where they try and reach a mutual agreement without having to go to trial; thus saving time and avoiding both cost and stress of a contended hearing in court.
The settlement conduct is ‘without prejudice’ and is conducted by a judge with both flexibility and sensitivity. Following successful trials elsewhere in the country, a pilot scheme is starting in Brighton.
Below is a summary of some key points about and conduct of settlement conferences but this cannot be regarded as complete or definitive.
The Basic Principles of a Settlement Conference
- All parties must consent to the process of the Settlement Conference on the basis of the information provided.
- The Judge who conducts the Settlement Conference should not be the case management Judge (unless all parties agree) and must not be the Judge who conducts the final hearing. The Judge who conducts the final hearing will not speak to the Settlement Conference Judge about the Settlement Conference.
- Generally, a final hearing should be listed so that all parties are aware of the availability of such a hearing if the Settlement Conference does not resolve all or some of the issues.
- The Settlement Conference must be capable of being listed as a matter of priority so that delay is not encountered in proceedings.
Conduct of a Settlement Conference
- All parties will be asked at the outset to clarify their position as to the disputed issues.
- No pressure will be brought to bear on any party with a view to reaching agreement.
- The procedure is flexible but a party is never to be seen without his/her legal representatives. If a party is not represented, in public law cases Guardians will be present, and in private law cases, CAFCASS will be present.
- Anything said during the course of the Settlement Conference process is confidential to the Settlement Conference process (both as to what the Judge has said to the parties and as to what the parties have said to the Judge or to each other).
- Any party’s lawyer is free at any stage to contribute to the process of a Settlement Conference.