Sir James Munby issued practice guidance: Case Management and Mediation of International Child Abduction Proceedings on the 13th of March 2018. The most talked about fragment of the president’s guidance is the new Mediation Scheme which is expected to commence on 16th of April 2018. This scheme is intended to encourage parents involved in abduction proceedings to mediate and resolve matters in an amicable and speedy manner. It is understood that this scheme will involve 2 mediators from Reunite International being present at the Royal Courts of Justice on a daily basis, ready to speak with parents and enlighten them on the possibilities of mediation. These mediators will also be available to speak with parents who are not in the jurisdiction via video link or telephone at the first hearing.
Whilst this is a noble intent by the President of the family court, some practitioners have raised the concern that this scheme is inevitably doomed and could perhaps create more difficulties rather than provide a speedy solution. For example, one of the challenges will be how feasible it will be for mediation to take place in cases where one parent is not in the jurisdiction of England and Wales. Another challenge is how effective it will be to introduce mediation to parents who are experiencing complex emotions and their main focus is securing the return of their child or children to their care.
However, that being said, Sir James Munby made some provision in his guidance to encourage parents who are not in the jurisdiction to engage with the scheme. In paragraph 20 of his guidance he provided that “In some circumstances public funding from the Legal Aid Agency may be available to cover the costs of flights and hotel for the applicant parent to come to this jurisdiction for the purposes of mediation, in which case Reunite will co-ordinate travel and accommodation arrangements.”* He also makes provision for the mediator to communicate with applicant parents via telecommunications applications such as Skype. Arguably, this eliminates the concerns being raised by practitioners, and it will be interesting to see whether the new scheme will improve the approach to international abduction proceedings and possibly improve the speed at which cases are dealt with.