The Ministry of Justice has sought to bolster its mediation strategy in the face of a dramatic fall in referrals in the past six months.
Data provided following a freedom of information request shows that in the six months since legal aid cuts were introduced in April, the number of separating couples attending initial mediation sessions fell by 51%. Between July and September, attendance plummeted by 58% on the previous year.
The figures, obtained by family mediator Marc Lopatin, showed that 14,758 couples attended mediation information and assessment meetings from June to September 2012. In the same period this year the number was 7,170. Between July and September 2013, there were monthly year-on year falls of more than two-thirds in Bristol, Brighton, Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester.
The figures suggest that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act halved the supply of referrals to mediation within one month of coming into effect in April.
Lopatin, founder of Lawyer-Supported Mediation, said that the Ministry of Justice budgeted for a boom in the number of people turning to mediation. However ‘the collapse in numbers and rise in self-litigants tells us that families in conflict do not find family mediation sufficiently compelling’.
Justice minister Lord McNally (pictured) said the ministry is aware of the drop in referrals and is working with the Family Mediation Council and legal profession to address it. Last month the ministry began a poster and leaflet campaign to raise public awareness.
McNally also signed a pledge created by family lawyers group Resolution agreeing to help couples going through separation by letting them know about alternatives to court.
The ministry stressed that ‘millions of pounds’ of legal aid remains for publicly funded mediation.