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4 August 2014

Family lawyers should be 'incentivised' by government to refer clients to mediation

Data compiled by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reveals that family courts referred just 713 parties to publicly funded mediation in 2013/14, reports The Solicitors Journal.

Court referrals accounted for just over 2 per cent of the 30,245 publicly funded Mediation Information & Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) that took place during that period. 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.

The data shows that, far from increasing the number of mediations, the withdrawal of legal aid from solicitors and barristers for most family disputes, resulted in mediation numbers falling by almost 40 per cent in the first full year of government cuts.

The number of parents heading to court without a lawyer has increased by over 19,000 in the same period.

With over half of the increase accounted for by low-income mothers unable to access legal aid for representation, it is perhaps unsurprising that the newly appointed chair of Resolution, Joanne Edwards, fears that the family court system is at 'breaking point'.

Beyond court referrals, the data obtained from the MoJ reveals links between advisory agencies and publicly funded mediators were frail. In 2013/14, the Citizens Advice Bureau was responsible for just 791 MIAMs taking place while referrals from Relate and other relationship counselling services totalled just 35 for the whole year.

The main source of referrals to publicly funded mediation continued to be from family lawyers despite there being no funding requirement or financial incentive for them to do so following the introduction of LASPO.

Referrals from lawyers accounted for 15,158 MIAMs, which amounts to just over half the total number that took place in 2013/14.

Individual referrals to mediation accounted for 39 per cent of MIAMs while referrals from the National Health Service and GPs accounted for just 20.

Read more on this story here.