an earlier stage to the legal aid conferences referred to above. Williams noted that as the fiscal constraints on the Legal Aid Office grew, so too did the use of conferencing as a filter mechanism.1016
9.84Between December 1990 and April 1992, the Queensland scheme was independently evaluated by Williams. The first stage of Williams’ research involved an interview with the parties, their lawyers and the chairman immediately after the EIC. The second stage involved a survey of legal aid clients 6 to 12 months after the EIC. Williams found that clients considered the process “fair and understandable, yielding decisions in the best interests of the children.”1017 The solicitors and chairmen “overwhelmingly supported the applicability of conferencing for custody and access matters”, that is EIC’s.
9.85Williams found that clients preferred to conference rather than appear in court, so that, even though there was a mandatory requirement to attend a conference, “there was a strong element of voluntary participation making the activity mediation-like.”1018 The clients agreed that the conference had enhanced their understanding of the dispute, their legal rights and the other party’s position. However, a significant number reported that their relationship with their ex-partner after the conference had deteriorated. Williams commented that “a better understanding of the disputes and legal rights does not guarantee durability of a workable post-cohabitation relationship”. Williams concluded that conferences are more likely to settle if the solicitors involved are supportive of the process.
9.86A follow-up survey found no significant decline in support for conferencing. It found that the durability of agreements was relatively high.1019 Three-quarters of those interviewed indicated that their agreement was still in place, though there were some problems with custody and access. Of the custody agreements, 90% were working. About two thirds of respondents said that their access agreements were still working six to 12 months later. Williams commented that this appears to depend more on the relationship between the parties than the mechanism used to reach agreement.
9.87Over two-thirds of the parties said they would recommend the conference process to others. The success of the process depended equally on professional input and the process itself. Williams commented:
“the quality of the conference process and the outcome it achieves are a function of the quantity and quality of the resources committed by the legal and social work professions, as much as the attributes of the clients themselves”.1020
1016 Williams, Discussion Paper, Conferencing in Family Law; a Discussion of the Process and Evaluation at the LAO, Brisbane, 1992.
1018 Williams, ibid at 5.
1019 This is because many of the parties had left the addresses so they could not be followed up.
1020 At 8.