Marilyn Stowe’s article on family mediation is misleading in two key respects.
First, it is true that there has been a significant downturn in referrals to mediation over the last nine months. That is simply because legal aid is (for most practical purposes) no longer available for family work with solicitors. Legal aid is still available for mediation, exactly as before.
The Ministry of Justice misjudged (badly) the effect of turning off the established flow of compulsory legal aid referrals from legal aid solicitors to family mediation. This is likely to come right to a significant extent when the Children and Families Bill comes into force, making referral to mediation (in most circumstances) compulsory before the issue of a court application.
In the meantime, our own experience as lawyer mediators is that the number of those that we see for assessment deciding to proceed with mediation has dramatically increased. This suggests that in fact the public are increasingly keen to embrace mediation, once they are able to find out about it.
Second, Ms Stowe suggests that people cannot be expected to make pivotal decisions about their children and assets when they are angry or distraught, and that mediation is therefore not suitable in most cases.
In fact, there are many skilled and experienced lawyer mediators who routinely help people to resolve the most difficult and complex disputes, often in highly charged and emotional situations. In my mediation practice, we are accustomed to receiving referrals, including from the courts, where all else has failed.
We are used to working out arrangements so that mediation takes place safely and sensibly, despite bail conditions and pending prosecutions, and whether the mediation is about arrangements for a child or complex financial issues.
For many, particularly since the effective demise of legal aid with solicitors, mediation has become the only way of resolving their disputes. It is difficult, challenging work that can – and usually does – provide fast, cost-effective solutions for our clients.
And those who are brave enough to try mediation, even when emotions are running high, have the chance to learn ways to constructively resolve all those issues that will crop up about their children in future, long after the solicitors and mediators have closed their files.
Andrew Saul, lawyer mediator, Fosters Mediation, Bungay, Suffolk