Separating families where one party would qualify for legal aid can now attend one session of Mediation for free. Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes announced Couples should avoid confrontational courtroom battles and use mediation as more free sessions will be funded by Government.
Since Legal Aid and Punishment of Offenders Act almost abolished legal aid funding for most Family matters in April 2013 referrals to Mediation plummeted despite it being the Governments intention to signpost family disputes to alternative forms of Dispute Resolution and retaining legal Aid for Mediation. Since then the Government have been working with Mediation services to look at ways in which disputing parties could be informed of the Mediation process and its benefits and encourage take up of the same.
In April 2014 mandatory Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings ( more commonly known as MIAMS meets ) were introduced. This means before consideration can be given to a court process the proposed Applicant must attend a MIAMS meet with a suitably accredited Mediator to be given information about the process and other forms of Dispute Resolution. If Mediation is assessed as not being appropriate a certificate confirming this can be issued which opens the gateway to the court process.
However and more commonly once information is given about Mediation the Applicant wished to engage in the process and extend an invite to the second party. This invariably is where the process ends statistically given the second party has had no incentive to attend a MIAMS meet and therefore not informed of the benefits.
This is where the Government are stepping in to try and encourage the take up of Mediation
Last year nearly two thirds of couples who attended a single mediation session for a child dispute reached a full agreement. Almost seven out of every ten couples who opted for mediation reached an agreement.
The announcement of a single mediation session for both parties if one of them is already legally aided is the latest stage of sweeping reforms to improve the family justice system and follows recommendations made by the independent Mediation Task Force.
The recommendations the Government are taking forward include:
- Funding ‘one single mediation session for everyone’, if one of the parties is already legally aided. (At present only the legally aided party can have the session for free, meaning there is a cost for the other member of the couple, which can deter them from taking part)
- Setting up an advisory group of experts to improve practice and make sure mediation is focussed on the best outcomes for any children involved
- Reviewing future Legal Aid Agency (LAA) contracts with mediation providers to improve service
- Exploring options for reforming the management of the mediation sector
- Expanding the ongoing campaign to increase awareness of mediation and legal help for mediation, and the availability of legal aid for it
the Government are committed to changing the way Family Disputes are resolved. We too as a society need to change are own perceptions of Dispute Resolution and embrace the changes now in place.