MoJ plan huge PR exercise to improve numbers attending mediation

The Ministry of Justice have turned to the legal profession to ask for their help in increasing the public profile of family mediation in the face of figures which clearly show that the number of divorcing couples turning to mediation has fallen sharply since cuts in legal aid. The MoJ’s plan is to make sure that couples are aware of the options available to them to help resolve their difficulties out of Court.

Figures released by the MoJ show an alarming drop in the number of people using family law mediators. Since cuts to available legal aid in April 2013 – mediation costs were prior to then more or less covered by legal aid, but are now restricted to a single payment of between £150 – £350 – the number of couples turning to mediation in the first six month period fell by 51%, with lawyers turning to legal aid for “help with mediation claims” on just 20 occasions during this period.

These figures have been released following a “freedom of information” request to the MoJ. Lord McNally, former minister, made an appeal before Christmas to mediators trained through Resolution, the national organisation of professionals committed to helping people resolve their divorce and separation issues constructively, for them to assist the Government in raising mediation’s public profile.

McNally’s request came at a time when many believed that the MoJ’s intention was to try and remove lawyers as far as possible from divorce and separation disputes – an intention which it would seem is borne out by the figures released.

It has also been announced yet again that it will be made compulsory for divorcing couples to attend mediation before taking their differences to Court – but the truth is that this is not the case. In such disputes, the only person who can be obliged to attend an initial mediation information and assessment meeting is the applicant. As mediation’s success in any event hinges on the attitude of those attending, and a willingness to work towards a conciliatory conclusion, it is unlikely in the opinion of many working within mediation that any attempt to force people to attend will be successful.

Even now, mediation’s success rate is low, with just 12% of more than 75,000 people using mediation in 2012/13 resulting in an agreement being reached, highlighting how difficult it can be in practice to reach a settlement even in cases where couples are willing to try mediation’s conciliatory approach.

So as the number of people turning to mediation as an alternative to the Courts plummets, the MoJ is left with a huge PR exercise to raise its profile – and it may be that the scale of this job means that the PR has already come too late for many legal practices and their clients.

Call our specialist Family Mediation team now

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AMESBURY [01980] 622992

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Family Arbitration Put Forward as a Fast-Track Financial Dispute Solution

Reforms planned by the foremost family law judge will allow divorcing couples to use a fast-track “private” justice system to resolve their financial split. Sir James Mumby, who is the President of the Family Division of the High Court, is set to issues a set of draft rules which intend to allow divorcing couples to use arbitration to reach an agreement over their financial settlement, and then only go to court to have the arbitration agreement confirmed.

The judge wrote to all family lawyers to give details of the new reforms which will create a single family court as of April, and stated that he is keen for the system to “move forward” when it comes to arbitration and other dispute resolution services. Sir James used as an example the case of S v S, which was the divorce of a couple who had been married for 26 years and commenced divorce proceedings in 2012. The legal process had reached the stage of decree nisi, and at that point both parties agreed to go to arbitration to negotiate a settlement for their assets of around £1.75 million. Within eight weeks of starting arbitration an agreement had been reached, the couple preserved their anonymity and the legal costs are far lower than they might have been in a conventional case.

These new rules should be welcomed by anyone working in family law, as they point out the many advantaged of going to arbitration, and help build the legal profession’s confidence in arbitration as a way of resolving disputes.

Here at Bonallack and Bishop, we strongly support the use of the three types of alternative dispute resolution for family law problems – family mediation, collaborative law and the new option of family arbitration. However, it is worth pointing out that family arbitrators are still relatively few and far between – and so for many people, family mediation or collaborative law may prove a more practical solution at this stage.

 Call our specialist Family Mediation team today

SALISBURY [01722] 422300

AMESBURY [01980] 622992

ANDOVER [01264] 364433                               

OR e-mail our family mediators using the email contact form below

Comments or questions are welcome.

* indicates required field