The Family Mediation Task Force, chaired by David Norgrove, has published its first set of recommendations on what more can be done to increase the uptake of family mediation.
According to the report, the immediate reason for the creation of the Task Force is that publicly funded mediations have in practice fallen by over a third as an unintended consequence of the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) and the loss of a major referral mechanism from legal aid lawyers to mediators.
One result has been an increase in the number of litigants in person in the family courts, many not representing themselves through choice. In addition too many people, including even some solicitors, do not understand that legal aid is still available for mediation.
The fall in publicly funded mediations has increased the financial pressure on many mediation providers and some have already gone out of business. This has led to concern that there may be a lack of capacity if and when the number of mediations begins to increase, which may result from the requirement introduced in April 2014 that most applicants to court should first have attended a MIAM to consider mediation.
Earlier in the year, the Ministry of Justice took action to gather ideas for how to improve the mediation picture from those working in the sector, academics, the wider family justice sector and the interested public. This has included a web-chat hosted by Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes
, which was inundated with ideas, an online crowd-sourcing tool to gather ideas called 'Dialogue' (which gathered almost 50 ideas) and a number of roundtable meetings hosted by the Minister with key parties. The suggestions raised in these forums have been considered by the Task Force and form the basis of many of their recommendations.
The summary of Recommendations made by the Family Mediation Task Force are reproduced below.