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Solicitors launch pioneering family arbitration service

22 February 2012

Solicitors, barristers and retired judges have come together to launch the first ever family law arbitration scheme.

The scheme will be operated by the newly-formed Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA), backed by Resolution and the Family Law Bar Association.

Nigel Shepherd, law reform spokesman at Resolution and one of the institute’s initial group of 35 arbitrators, said arbitration was much more flexible and faster than getting a decision from the courts.

“I don’t think anyone wanting to fix an arbitration today will have to wait anything like the time they have to for a decision from the courts,” Shepherd said.

“There is flexibility over the issues the parties want to be heard and over the procedure.

“You get to choose the suitably qualified person you want to make the award and the venue. It could potentially be anywhere at any time. All you need is a room and a computer to make a decision.”

Shepherd said arbitrators could make themselves available after 6pm, which would be particularly useful for people with childcare responsibilities.

He said arbitration was not just for high-value divorces, but was “ideal for middle England”, particularly if it was serviced out of London. The first group of arbitrators included solicitors from some of the smaller practices in the regions, he said.

Shepherd added that arbitration awards could be turned into formal court orders within divorce proceedings, as with consent orders. Appeals against arbitration awards could be made to the family courts.

Marilyn Stowe, senior partner of Stowe Family Law and another pioneer arbitrator, said that she believed the scheme could “revolutionise” settlement of family law disputes in England.

“Arbitrators have wide-ranging powers to make decisions on any case management or significant decisions upon which the parties involved can’t agree,” she said.

“This includes deciding what matters are included in the arbitration agreement, making interim awards on issues such as maintenance, the extent of disclosure or the need for written submissions, and the appointment of an expert or assessor. They can also make orders for costs.”

IFLA will be formally launched next month at Inner Temple by the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer.

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