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Mediation rates plummet despite government intentions

Charity calls for initial mediation assessments to be made free as 'embarrassing' figures published

2 July 2014

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Charity calls for initial mediation assessments to be made free as 'embarrassing' figures published

The number of people using mediation services has seen a significant decline with a drop of 56 per cent for mediation assessments, 38 per cent for mediation 'starts' and 27 per cent in final agreements over the last 12 months, according to the Ministry of Justice figures.

National Family Mediation (NFM), the largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales, said that the government must ensure "nothing is off limits" as it considers how to reverse this collapse.

The NFM has suggested that the government provides free initial mediation awareness meetings (MIAM), which became compulsory earlier this year for people seeking a court order.

"The government says it wants more people to go to mediation rather than clogging up the family courts, yet its policies of the past two years have achieved precisely the opposite," said NFM's chief executive, Jane Robey.

"It's an embarrassment for government ministers, and one they have to address if they are serious about mediation. With a multimillion-pound underspend, ministers could now make it free to attend the initial MIAM. They could and should go further to support professional mediation and ensure it succeeds.

"While ministers will no doubt be considering extending the 'help with family mediation' scheme, which enables people eligible for legal aid to attend a free advice session with a lawyer, they should also be looking to make the first mediation session following the MIAM free too. The underspend means the money is there, hopefully the political will is too. Nothing should be off limits in ministers' considerations."

Figures also showed that 79 per cent of those who started mediation reached full agreement, compared with 67 per cent the year before.

"Some might see it as ironic that the mediation success rate in the past year has actually risen, but that's further evidence that mediation really can work. It's now time for the government to support mediators to increase the numbers of people benefitting," added Robey.

 

'Confirming fears'

Julia Thackray is the former head of family at Penningtons and now the family programme director at CLT

"The government has effectively strangled a significant source of referrals to mediation by the legal aid cuts introduced by LASPO. Many separating couples with financial issues or children disputes no longer seek legal advice, not being able to afford private fees, and they are unaware that there is some scope for free support with mediation. Many of them, therefore, are still largely unaware of how mediation works and that it may be a good option for them.

"The government support for mediation in theory has not brought results in practice. Many lawyers and mediators could have told them that not enough was being done and indeed that some of what they were doing was going to be counterproductive. The massive underspend confirms those fears and the situation requires urgent action. The courts will take the strain of more litigants in person, and families are likely to suffer without proper advice or access to supported decision making in mediation."

 

See also ‘Administrative nightmare’ between MoJ and Family Mediation Council

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Marriage & Civil partnership