A solicitor has referred the Family Mediation Council to the Competition and Markets Authority over concerns that guidelines introduced at the end of last year will block new entrants from mediation.
Changes to the Family Procedure Rules introduced in December mean that in order to conduct a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM), mediators must be accredited by the Family Mediation Council.
Paul Summerbell, head of the family department at Eastbourne firm Warren’s Law and Advocacy, told the Gazette he has filed a formal complaint to the CMA.
His complaint says that MIAMs are the primary channel for obtaining mediation clients and the mandatory requirement for MIAMs means that anyone wanting to provide mediation must register with the FMC.
He notes that this is in the context of an unregulated market, where registration as a mediator is not compulsory.
To gain accreditation with the FMC, mediators need to provide examples of three cases, originating more than two years ago. This, Summerbell says, prevents anyone who has started mediation work only in the past two to three years from registering.
He told the Gazette: ‘They are effectively protecting the old guard.’
Summerbell said that the move has affected solicitors in particular because many have started to provide mediation only since the introduction of the Children and Families Act 2014, which first made MIAMs mandatory.
He added: ‘The FMC have in effect acted against competition law.’ Even if it did not, ‘this amounts to a restrictive practice and is essentially a boycott which cannot be justified on public policy grounds’.
A spokesman for the FMC said that although mediators need accreditation in order to conduct MIAMs in cases where a couple wants to proceed to court, the new rule would not prevent anyone from conducting mediation in other circumstances. He added that the policy would be reviewed throughout the year.