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Rachael Blakey

Research student

I joined Cardiff University as an undergraduate student in 2013, studying LLB Law. After being awarded a 1st Class Honours in 2016, I received an ESRC funded Studentship and studied for an MSc in Social Science Research Methods (Socio-Legal) in 2017.

I am currently a third-year PhD student in the Law School, focusing on the conceptualisation of family mediation. My main interests are in family law and dispute resolution, particularly mediation. I am also interested in access to justice, feminist theory, and autonomy. I was a Graduate Tutor for Equity in Trusts in 2018-2019.

I currently sit on the Student Staff Panel for PGR Law and Politics and am PG Representative for the SLSA. For all SLSA queries, please contact SLSAPGREP@gmail.com.

Research interests

Publications

Articles

Rachael Blakey, ‘Cracking the Code: the role of mediators and flexibility post-LASPO’ (2020) Child and Family Law Quarterly (forthcoming)

Rachael Blakey, ‘Family mediation after LASPO: the accessibility and relevance of public information’ (2018) 48(8) Family Law 1057-1061

Blogs

Rachael Blakey, 'Access to Justice: Information in Replacement of Legal Advice' (The Justice Gap, 3 October 2018) <www.thejusticegap.com/access-to-justice-information-in-replacement-of-legal-advice/> [also available on Legal Voice: www.legalvoice.org.uk/access-justice-information-replacement-legal-advice/]

Rachael Blakey, 'The Rise of the Pro-mediation Rhetoric: analysing public documents on family mediation' (SLSA Blog, 20 April 2018) <http://slsablog.co.uk/blog/blog-posts/the-rise-of-the-pro-mediation-rhetoric-analysing-public-documents-on-family-mediation/>


Presentations

May 2019: Postgraduate Research Symposium, Cardiff University

Access to Justice in Family Mediation Codes of Practice: Resolving the Neutrality Dilemma

April 2019: SLSA Annual Conference 2019, Leeds

Family Mediation after LASPO: The Underlying Messages in Codes of Practice

March 2018: SLSA Annual Conference 2018, Bristol

Family mediation post-LASPO: the Accessibility and Relevance of Public Information

March 2017: SSRM Dissertation Conference 2017, Cardiff

Are Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings an Effective Gateway to Family Mediation?

Projects

2017: How Accessible and Relevant is Public Information on Family Mediation?

My Masters' dissertation looked at the accessibility of public documents on family mediation. I analysed documents created by mediation providers and gatekeepers, as well as the most common websites on search engines when searching for advice on divorce. I conducted qualitative content analysis alongside readability formulas. By using a mixed-methods approach, I discovered the widespread use of complex language and legal jargon in documents intended for a public audience. Mediation was positively portrayed throughout, including by gatekeepers who present themselves as neutral bodies. Overall, the study adds to growing calls for an authoritative, online portal for parties' options for family disputes.

Thesis

The Conceptualisation of Family Mediation

Family mediation is an alternative dispute resolution procedure increasingly promoted by governments since the 1980s, particularly in relation to divorce and relationship breakdown. Following the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), mediation is now at centre stage of our family justice system. However, this has not come without its difficulties. LASPO has dramatically changed the family law landscape, removing solicitor support from the majority of disputes. Although mediation uptake has dramatically dropped and failed to recover, mediators are seeing a more diverse range of complex and difficult cases. These cases were previously screened out of mediation, but evidence suggests mediators feel obliged to take these cases on because of a lack of options in the post-LASPO context. Calls have subsequently increased for mediator practice to become more flexible and cater for their increasingly homogenous client base.


Despite these contextual changes, the orthodox approach to family mediation continues to dominate information on the process and training. This is primarily based on a facilitative approach for mediators, with more evaluative strands being provided by solicitors. Mediator intervention is thus widely disregarded as an immoral or inappropriate form of conduct. This is because mediator neutrality and party autonomy are key concepts in mediation theory that bind mediators. Unfortunately, this limits the ability of mediators to adapt their practices. Discussions on family mediation reform are at a stand-still as a result: to permit flexibility may aid access to justice but go against the principles long upheld in mediation theory, but to deny flexibility will continue many of the problems facing mediation after LASPO.


My thesis will consider how mediator neutrality and party autonomy operate within family mediation in England and Wales and what this means for clients. The overall objective of the thesis is to understand how modern family mediation practice operates and to track changes in its conceptualisation from the 1970s. In particular, the project aims to understand: how are the objectives of mediation and the role of the mediator conceptualised in family mediation?


The empirical aspect of the project is two-fold. First, I have analysed Codes of Practice for family mediators in England and Wales. This enables an understanding of the presentation of mediation from the perspective of its regulatory bodies, as well as how mediators are expected to balance neutrality and autonomy with other principles found within the documents. The second stage of my research is based on semi-structured interviews with family mediators. The aim of this research is to understand how mediators interpret the concepts behind mediation, the impact of LASPO and their role in the process. I interviewed 17 family mediators in July and August 2019, and will be presenting findings from this research in the current academic year.

Funding source

ESRC 1+3 Studentship

Leanne Smith

Dr Leanne Smith

Reader in Law

Sharon Thompson

Dr Sharon Thompson

Senior Lecturer in Law

Areas of expertise

External profiles