Just one in twenty family law disputes are preceded by mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs), new data reveals.
MIAMs became compulsory for anyone planning to take a family dispute to court from April 2014. They are intended to make parties in dispute consider whether or not mediation would be a suitable way to resolve their difficulties, whether they related to divorce, property or their children.
But despite the rule change, figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request show that in 2014-2015, less than 5,000 MIAMs were held, while more than 112,000 family law disputes were taken to court. In other words, approximately 95 per cent of all family disputes proceed straight to the courtroom.
The data was released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), following a request by the organisation National Family Mediation.
Chief Executive Jane Robey said:
“By requiring separating couples to attend a mediation awareness meeting, the government’s aim was to introduce a cheaper and less confrontational alternative to court. But with fewer than 1 in 20 of couples even attending the initial meeting, let alone following that route through to its conclusion, the law has failed.”
Quite. But actually, it’s not the law that has failed, it’s the reasoning behind the introduction of this scheme which was never sought and certainly not wanted by the people involved.
These figures send a very clear message: there is an across-the-board lack of enthusiasm for MIAMs and the whole principle of mediation on the ground. People, it seems, just don’t want a low cost, low rent, ‘touchy feely’, non-lawyer sideways approach to their disputes – they want the black and white certainties of a judge, courtroom, lawyers and the law. They want their ‘day in court’. That’s how it’s always been done – and it looks like most litigants are happy to keep it that way.
If only the government hadn’t torpedoed legal aid for family disputes. If only they didn’t seem so intent on keeping costs down and disputes out of the hands of judges, lawyers and the courts …. And yet, despite their best efforts to corral the public into mediation, the public is voting with its feet, reminding the MoJ that they just aren’t interested. And interestingly, so too are the distinguished academics, professors of law and fellows of psychology, the very people you might think would be behind the mediation push. It appears they aren’t. Far from it – they too can see all too clearly how flawed mediation really is.
In a recent publication entitled Delivering Family Justice in the 21st Century, authors Hunter, Barlow, Smithson and Ewing, conclude in their “Paths to Justice in Family Divorce Cases” that “our research suggests that once size does not fill all when it comes to family dispute resolution and that the absolute policy preference for mediation is not justified.”
They go on to criticise the non-availability of collaborative law, solicitor negotiations or lawyer-led proceedings in court for so many following the removal of legal aid. Even so, those left with a straight choice between mediation and self- representation in court report there are serious problems with mediation, including the focus on process rather than outcome (always a problem with mediation). And very interestingly, many of those involved found the process traumatic and felt they were being controlled and intimidated.
Could that explain the preference for simply going to court? You put your confidence in the one system you do know and trust rather than one you absolutely do not?
I wonder just how many billions have been spent on the CSA and successor organisation the CMS since their inception in the 90s? It was never wanted and it never worked no matter how hard they kept trying. They’re still trying.
Even in with its latest incarnation, the signs are that it has already come to the end of the road in some ways. It is back tracking and trying to keep away as many new applicants away as it can in order to replace itself in their lives with….nothing at all. Reach an agreement or come to us and we will charge you to do …not a lot. Why don’t they just quietly close it down and give people the right to go to court? Oh yes. I remember. It wouldn’t be ideal, would it, with all those court closures in the pipeline and with doing much as possible and maybe a hearing or two fixed to take place down the Town Hall two weeks next Tuesday….
In a recent article I posed the question Who should run the justice system? I can only reinforce its content in the light of the startling figures released today. It is not beyond the wit of serious business-minded lawyers who know exactly what is required and how to provide it, to run the justice system successfully within a budget that works.