A legal charity has called for judges to direct more people towards mediation.
In response to Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures which revealed the number of people who choose mediation to resolve family disputes is still very low, charity National Family Mediation (NFM) said judges should do more to address the problem.
The official figures covered mediation and legal aid statistics in the first quarter of the year. They indicated that the number of new sessions of family mediation has increased since the previous quarter. However, they also showed that fewer people choose mediation now than did before the “devastating legal aid changes of 2013” which eliminated help for the majority of family law cases.
NFM CEO Jane Robey commended the government’s attempts to “seek culture change so that mediation becomes the first port of call for divorcing couples” but said there was still more which could be done to improve the “doggedly low” numbers.
“Family court judges must be more willing to embrace mediation, using the powers they already have to direct people who come before courts towards alternative means of settling disputes.”
Ms Robey also noted that the Department for Work and Pensions has been funding NFM’s ‘at court mediation’ pilot project. The idea behind the scheme is to help separated parents who have spent at least two years in the family court system. The project allows such couples to “suspend legal proceedings and meet specialist mediators to negotiate long-term arrangements for children, property and finance”.
She described the project as “an ace that can be played” to help boost the mediation numbers across the country.
However, the MoJ figures also revealed that the success rate of mediation is in decline. There were more mediation sessions which ended in an agreement during the first quarter of 2014 than there were in the same period this year. Ms Robey suggested that this could be because “separating couples simply see the compulsory mediation information meeting as a hoop to jump through on the way to court” rather than an actual solution.
To download the MoJ data, click here.