Unpublished data compiled by the Ministry of Justice reveals that family courts referred just 713 parties to publicly-funded mediation in 2013/14.
The number of referrals from court accounted for just over 2% of the 30,245 publicly-funded Mediation Information & Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) that took place in 2013/14. This will come as a blow to Ministers given that family mediation is being held up by government as the publicly funded alternative to litigation.
Annual data for referrals to mediation was secured via a Freedom of Information request submitted by divorce & separation service LawyerSupportedMediation.com.
Far from increasing the number of mediations the withdrawal of legal aid from solicitors and barristers for most family disputes resulted in mediation numbers plummeting by almost 40% in 2013/14 – the first full year of government cuts.
Instead of mediating, the number of parents heading to court without a lawyer ballooned by over 19,000 in 2013/14. Over half of the increase was accounted for by low-income mothers no longer able to access legal aid for representation.
Beyond court referrals to mediation, the data revealed links between advisory agencies and publicly funded mediators were shockingly weak. In 2013/14, the Citizens Advice Bureau was responsible for just 791 MIAMs taking place while referrals from Relate and other relationship counseling services totalled just 35 for the year.
The biggest source of referrals to publicly funded mediation continued to be family lawyers despite there being no funding requirement or financial incentive for them to refer onto mediators following the introduction of LASPO. Referrals from lawyers accounted for 15,158 MIAMs, just over half the total number that took place in 2013/14. People referring themselves to mediation accounted for 39% of MIAMs while referrals from the NHS and GPs numbered just 20.
Marc Lopatin, trained family mediator and founder of LawyerSupportedMediation,com, said: “The referral data is yet more evidence that without lawyers being aligned and supportive of mediation, the number of referrals will forever be constrained.
“Ministers need to urgently incentivise family lawyers to encourage people to mediate and to ensure clients remain informed once there. Else, the same lawyers will continue selling low-value unbundled services to former legal aid clients which does nothing to dampen the incentive to litigate in person.”
To strengthen referral links between mediators and family law stakeholders the Mediation Taskforce – chaired by Sir David Norgrove – recently recommended Ministers fund a low-level campaign to raise awareness about what mediators do and how effective they can be.
Despite falling numbers of people attending mediation in 2013/14, data from the Ministry of Justice showed that almost eight out of ten people that started mediation went on to reach agreement.
For more information please contact Marc Lopatin, founder, Lawyer-Supported Mediation on 033 0223 1188.