The number of separating couples who have been attending initial family mediation sessions has fallen by a remarkable 51% in a period of just six months following the legal aid cuts introduced in April 2013, figures which were obtained by family mediator Marc Lopatin reveal. Attendance fell by 58% on the previous year and the Ministry of Justice have begun a poster and leaflet campaign to try and raise public awareness of the existence of mediation, having previously budgeted for a significant increase in the number of people they expected to look to mediation.
In the period June to September 2012, 14,758 couples attended mediation information and assessment meetings; in 2013, over the same period, that number fell to just 7,170. The figures suggest that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act which came into effect in April 2013 halved the referral stream in just one month. Monthly year on year falls of more than two-thirds have taken place in Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Bristol and Brighton and have left the Ministry of Justice trying to improve its struggling mediation strategy.
Lopatin, who founded Lawyer-Supported Mediation, says his figures, compiled following data released following a freedom of information request, show that families going through the divorce process do not find the mediation option “sufficiently compelling”. Lord McNally, the Justice Minister, said that the Ministry is aware of the dramatic fall in the number of referrals, and is seeking to address it, working alongside the Family Mediation Council and the legal profession. The Ministry has been at pains to stress that “millions of pounds” of legal aid remain in place for publicly funded mediation work.
Here at Bonallack and Bishop, our family team are strong supporters of the whole mediation process. The view of many mediators if that mediation is not widely used because people are either unaware of it, do not fully understand what is involved in the process, or a combination of the two and as a result they do not appreciate how they could be helped by a suitably trained and effective mediator.
In the meantime, the collapse in referral numbers and increase in the number of those seeking to represent themselves is evidence that the Ministry of Justice have more work to do, with McNally signing a pledge created by the family lawyers’ group Resolution committing to ensuring that couples going through separation know of the alternatives to Court available to them.
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