National Family Mediation (NFM) has given a ‘cautious welcome’ to a Government announcement of a new £2m package of support to help families avoid court room confrontations.
But NFM says Ministers and
officials must learn from recent errors if the package is to
The Government announcement (23 October)
comes after the
number of litigants in person – unrepresented parties attending family courts –
soared following cuts to legal aid entitlements.
'There is a desperate need to change the culture of the way
divorce is ‘managed’ in our country,” says Jane Robey, National Family
Mediation’s Chief Executive. “But if these new measures are to succeed in
helping change the culture, Ministers need to learn from mistakes they’ve made
in the recent past.'
A written statement from Justice Minister Simon Hughes (23
October) outlined three main areas where the Government package will
- Improving online information so that it is accurate,
engaging and easy to find.
- A new strategy, funded by the Ministry of Justice, and
agreed with the legal and advice sectors which will help to increase legal and
practical support for litigants in person in the civil and family courts.
- A new ‘Supporting separating parents in dispute
helpline’ pilot run by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support
Service (Cafcass) to test a more joined-up and tailored out-of-court service.
Jane Robey commented:
wish to improve online information is laudable, recent Government experience in
online help for separating families does not augur well. In June 2014 Ministers
admitted that the so-called ‘Sorting Out Separation’ app had cost taxpayers
nearly half a million pounds, and there’s precious little evidence it’s made any
We cautiously welcome hearing that a new strategy will be
developed to help litigants in person, and National Family Mediation very much
looks forward to being involved in shaping it. Our caution is because we fear
the experiences of the recent Family Mediation Taskforce might be repeated. Many
people and organisations contributed to that Taskforce in what, on the face of
it, appeared a root-and-branch reform.
Yet when push came to shove, the recommendations of the
Taskforce were largely ignored.
Families who are facing the heartache of separation, and who
hear murmurs that support is on the way, really can do without another "talking
The Sorting Out Separation app had cost £417,500 as at 30
June 2014, according to a written Parliamentary answer published in
on that date.