Courts are not checking whether divorcing couples have attended meetings to explore mediation and other alternatives before applying to start court proceedings, a survey has found.
For the past year, parties have been required to attend mediation assessment and information meetings (MIAMs) to find out about mediation, collaborative law and arbitration. However, a survey of solicitors by family lawyers group Resolution shows that the pre-action protocol requiring parties to attend the sessions is not being followed consistently.
Over half - 56% - of respondents said that court staff do not regard it as compulsory for a party issuing an application to show evidence of having attended a MIAM. While almost a third said they had referred the majority of their clients to a MIAM, one fifth said they had only referred a small minority of their clients.
The president of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall, last month acknowledged the shortcomings of the scheme, and apologised that MIAMs ‘are not working as they should in certain parts of the country’. Wall urged solicitors to press courts to make proper use of their powers to encourage parties to use alternatives to court at every stage of the process.
Robin ap Cynan, Law Society family law committee member and representative on the Family Justice Council, said the MIAM process is worthwhile and liked by clients who have attended it. But he added: ‘For it to be effective, you need a fierce judiciary.’
He said that it was not surprising that the process had not worked as the protocol was drafted by district judges without formal consultation with lawyers or mediators.