Mediator shortage looms, says family lawyers' group

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Separating couples may ‘escape’ the new requirement to consult a mediator before going to court because of a shortage of properly accredited mediators, family lawyers’ group Resolution has suggested.

The group’s chair Dave Allison also warned there was a risk that members of the public may ‘be fooled into going to an unqualified mediator’ as the new pre-application protocol, announced last week, does not specify that people must use an accredited provider.

Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly said last week that, from 6 April, all parties in family disputes will be required to attend a mediation awareness session before taking their case to court, unless there are allegations of domestic violence or child protection issues.

The Family Mediation Council (FMC) has agreed the criteria that a mediator must fulfil to be considered accredited, but Allison said the Ministry of Justice’s protocol has failed to specify that only accredited mediators must be used.

He said: ‘While most people will seek legal advice first and be directed to properly trained and accredited mediators, members of the public on their own may be fooled into going to an unqualified mediator.’

Allison said he was also concerned that there would not initially be enough mediators in place to meet the new demand, which could enable people to ‘escape the provisions of the protocol’ and go straight to court.

‘If the protocol hadn’t been drafted with such indecent haste, all these things could have been resolved properly,’ he added.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said there are at least 600 family mediation services in England and Wales, and it did not expect capacity to be a problem.

She added that FMC member organisations are actively recruiting and training new mediators, and there are a number of ‘sleeper’ mediators who have already trained, but have not yet had the opportunity to practise due to the lack of demand for mediation.

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