Referrals to family mediation – the government’s flagship solution to the removal of legal aid and congested courts – have nosedived, according to figures seen by the Gazette.
Family mediation referrals fell nationally by an average of 26% for the three months from April to June 2013 compared with the same period in 2012. Legal aid was removed for most private law family matters on 1 April this year.
Legal aid remains available to fund mediation, but figures released by the Ministry of Justice following a freedom of information enquiry by Marc Lopatin, founder of Lawyer Supported Mediation (LSM), showed there were 3,564 referrals from April to June 2012. In the same quarter of 2013 there were 2,623. Referrals for May and June were both down by 36%.
The falls were most dramatic in Brighton (41%), Cambridge (32%) Leeds (30%) and London (27%).
The number of couples attending MIAMs (mediation information and assessment meetings), fell by an average of 47% in the same period, with the numbers in May and June 2013 down by 57% and 52% respectively on the same period in 2012.
Lopatin said: ‘The figures are terrible news for clients, who are missing out on the benefits of mediation and bad news for mediators.’
Next year, it will be compulsory for all parties looking to start proceedings to attend MIAMs, but Lopatin said that by then many mediation providers will have gone out business.
His proposed solution – LSM – brings lawyers and mediators together with a lead firm in each geographical region providing advice, support and drafting for a fixed fee.
LSM has 20 law firm members, including London firms Steele & Shamash, Venters and Imran Khan & Partners, and Slater & Gordon in Manchester. Mediation providers include TV Edwards, Camden Mediation, Greater Manchester Mediation and Winston Solicitors in Leeds.
Responding to the figures, justice minister Lord McNally said that ‘millions of pounds of legal aid’ is still available to cover the cost of mediation, and last year just over 17,000 successfully used legal aid-funded mediation to settle family issues.