The number of publicly funded UK family mediations getting underway in October 2013 plummeted by 45% compared to the same month in 2012.
Figures we obtained from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) using the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act show 707 mediation starts for October 2013 compared with 1281 in October 2012. The 45% fall is the second highest year-on-year monthly fall since changes to public funding were introduced in April 2013.
Between April and October 2013, the total number of UK mediation starts fell by by over one-third (35%), compared to the same period in 2012. This is a far cry from the MoJ’s stated aim of funding the expansion of family mediation to absorb the tens of thousands of low income separating couples that can no longer access lawyer-led services using legal aid.
With the MoJ’s policy effectively severing the link between lawyers and mediators, the number of people attending Mediation Information & Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) in October 2013 fell by 57% year-on-year. October 2013 also marked six months in a row that the number of couples attending MIAMs remained below half the number for the same period in 2012/13.
Birmingham in particular stands out: in October 2013 the UK’s second city recorded the largest year-on-year monthly fall in both mediations getting underway (down 67%) and MIAMs being attended (down 75%). The collapse in MIAMs is the largest year-on-year monthly fall since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act became law.
In response, the MoJ will no doubt point to the forthcoming tightening of the requirement for Applicants to meet with a mediator before allowed to take court action. While this is certain to raise the number of MIAMs significantly, there is no evidence that such meetings will routinely result in mediations getting underway.
In 2012/13 – the last full year when legal aid lawyers had to refer their client to a mediator before being allowed to access further public funds – it required over 75,320 referrals to generate just 13,571 mediations.
It remains our view that any intervention to improve the take-up of mediation should move beyond compulsion and prioritise making mediation more compelling in the eyes of both members of a separating couple. The same data shows that over two-thirds (67%) of people who started mediation in 2012/13, went on to reach agreement.