The government’s attempts to promote mediation are failing and it should launch a campaign to raise awareness, an official task force has concluded.
The Family Mediation Task Force was established earlier this year by the Ministry of Justice to gather ideas on improving the uptake of family mediation from social and family justice professionals, as well the public. It is is chaired by David Norgrove, the accountant who previously helmed the Family Justice Review back in 2012.
The Task Force held meetings and made online tools available to those who wished to submit their views.
Figures released earlier this year by the Ministry of Justice showed a sharp drop in publically funded mediation. According to a newly published report by the Task Force, this drop was an “unintended consequence” of the drastic cuts to the legal aid available for family cases introduced in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, commonly known as LASPO, which came into force on 1 April last year.
The report notes that this resulted in “the loss of a major referral mechanism from legal aid lawyers to mediators”. The number of people appearing in court without legal representation has soared and the task force believes that many are also unaware that legal aid is still available for mediation.
Therefore, “….the government’s objective [to increase the use of mediation]is not being achieved – the reverse in fact.”
Many mediation providers have gone out of business, the report states, leading to concerns that there may not be a sufficient number of qualified mediatiors to meet demand if and when uptake increases. This, says the report “…may result from the requirement introduced in April 2014 that most applicants to court should first have attended a MIAM to consider mediation”.
Other recommendations made by the Task Force include:
*The abolition of fault-based divorce.
*Government funding of all MIAMs for a period of 12 months.
*The elimination of archaic language from court forms and documents.
*An increase in the fee paid to mediators for three years.
*Government funding of the first mediation session for parties without legal aid for a period of three years.
I have to admit that I have no patience with this unimaginative report. It’s desperate measures – just tinkering around the edges, as successive governments did for years with the CSA.
The problem is very simple – mediation doesn’t work properly if it’s introduced at too early a stage in the divorce process, when many simply aren’t ready. And even if they are, if it is conducted by mediators without legal qualifications the results can be unworkable, causing further delay and cost. Mediation has no real teeth either.
The only reason the government keep on pushing mediation is desperation – desperation to keep desperate couples out of the courts, no matter the injustice this causes. And all because of a blind determination to end legal aid, one of the poorly-thought-through moves by a single government in decades.
There is is no doubt about it: mediation as a panacea for all family law issues is simply the CSA Mark II. The government has backed another loser and left the family justice system in chaos and meltdown.