Published: 15th January 2018
While recent figures regarding family mediation show that the number of family mediation sessions taking place within the UK is decreasing, the National Family Mediation expect to see a spike in sessions during this month.
Although the charity predictsan increase in family mediation services overall, National Family Mediation believe that family mediation is likely to struggle in the future as of the availability of publicly funded mediation sessions has decreased, despite the law outlining that mediation is compulsory before any application for a court order.
Family Mediation Facing Troubling Times
The power to make mediation compulsory in certain circumstances is already in place, and this means that many are suggesting a boost to the number of sessions is very likely, but the legislation in place does need to be strictly enforced. Following the introduction of LASPO (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders legislation) in 2014, there was an initial drop in numbers of court order applications, and a sudden rise in family mediation sessions. Despite still being compulsory, family mediation numbers have drastically dropped and more and more Litigants in Person are being seen in the family courts, costing the courts and the taxpayer a lot of time and money in the process.
Jane Robey, the CEO of National Family Mediation, said: ‘Sadly our experience shows that magistrates, judges, and court officials are bypassing the necessary process of getting the paperwork signed by a mediator at a MIAM and anecdotally we hear judges say: “you are here now so let's get on with it.”’
She continued, saying: ‘What we hear indicates lawyers are treating the current situation as they did pre-LASPO: Families are spending their money on solicitors, then being sent by those solicitors to a MIAM simply in order to tick the box that “frees” them of any obligation to make settlements through full family mediation – which would save the families money, time and stress, whilst delivering better outcomes for their family. They then head back to the solicitor to spend still more money. Pre-LASPO, solicitors had legal aid for representation, they referred people to mediation to box tick then back again to spend more money. In effect, nothing has changed.’
Legal Sector Language
It is clear that families looking to separate require the right support and advice to work towards reaching a fair agreement, but that is currently a difficult task. National Family Mediation suggest that the legal process should be made simpler and easier to understand for those going through the process, and that includes using language more suited to the 21st century. They believe that the way much of the legal system is written and communicated is archaic and obscure and that adapting this would make the whole process easier for all concerned, as well as making mediation a more approachable activity for families.
Jane Robey further commented, saying: ‘We are not arguing for a return to a pre-LASPO legal aid landscape when we all know the UK's financial position is very different to how it was when the Act was introduced. We believe the focus of attention needs to be fully upon those we are trying to help, separating families, not on reinstating measures that were and would be highly expensive to the taxpayer and from which – past evidence tells us – the main beneficiaries would be the legal profession.’
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