The government’s troubled family mediation policy is set to hit crisis point as divorce cases begun before April 2013’s legal aid cuts reach their conclusion, the Gazette can reveal.
Ministry of Justice figures show that since private family cases were largely taken out of scope for legal aid, the take-up of public funding for advice to support mediation has been non-existent in many parts of the country. The figures also call into question the viability of legal practices that are surviving on legal aid family cases begun before April 2013.
Of 82,432 family claims made in England and Wales between April and October 2013, just 20 included help with mediation claims. By contrast, in the preceding 12 months lawyers made 62,390 ‘funding code’ referrals to publicly funded mediation.
The figures were obtained through a freedom of information request by Marc Lopatin, family mediator and founder of LawyerSupportedMediation.com.
Shortly before his removal in December, former justice minister Lord McNally (pictured) wrote to all Resolution-trained mediators appealing for their help in raising the profile of family mediation. McNally also asked for help identifying ‘real life stories’ that could be used in press coverage.
Rachel Duke, head of the family department at London firm Ronald Fletcher Baker, told the Gazette: ‘Government wants mediation as a standalone option – and that is failing spectacularly.’
Medition will be promoted through the £25m the MoJ has allocated to run family mediation and information sessions. The requirement to be introduced that divorcing couples consider mediation before heading for the courts, reannounced by the MoJ last week, will not make the difference to mediation numbers that is claimed, Duke said: ‘This will make very little difference. Only the applicant is required to attend the mediation. There is no compulsion on the respondent.’
Lopatin warned: ‘The link between lawyer and mediator has been severed when it is clear that for dialogue to be informed at mediation, legal advice needs to be given in parallel.’
- Read Eduardo Reyes’ blog on the figures