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.
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