News of an additional £5.4 million investment in a mediation voucher scheme to help families resolve legal issues outside court was given a cautious welcome by the Law Society as it warned that more is needed to address the family courts backlog.
The voucher scheme, set up last year, is run by the Family Mediation Council on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and provides a £500 voucher to put towards the cost of mediation for families in England and Wales. According to the MoJ, 8,400 vouchers have been used since March last year. Of these cases, 65% reached a whole or partial agreement.
The Family Mediation Council said that the increased investment in the voucher scheme will allow around 10,200 more families to be helped in 2022-23.
However, Law Society president I Stephanie Boyce noted that more needs to be done to reduce the backlog of an estimated 58,762 new family cases waiting to be heard.
'The cases that go to court are often complex and may not be suitable for mediation,' Boyce said. 'So while we welcome the government’s efforts to steer clients away from court via mediation, this is just one remedy of many that are needed to address the backlog of cases.'
Restoring early legal advice for family law cases, would mean that fewer cases go to court, Boyce said. 'Instead, solicitors could assist negotiated settlements, referral to mediation and better manage client expectations.'
John Taylor, chair of the Family Mediation Council, said: 'The funding is encouraging people to access mediation instead of applying to court, and much more often than not results in separated parents agreeing arrangements for children and related financial issues without having to go to court. It is common for parents to barely be speaking to each other before mediation takes place; the mediation process helps them to build a new relationship in which they are able to communicate in a way that which is healthier both for them and for their children.
'The voucher scheme also brings financial savings for the government as people do not need to go to court, but the main benefit is that it results in happier, healthier children and families.'