Early results and evaluation of a pilot scheme to make in-court family mediation available to legally aided parties has proven to be effective.
The pilot scheme, developed by the Legal Services Commission (LSC), operated in Family Proceedings Courts and county courts for 6 months, up to 31 December 2009, targeting five areas: Birmingham, Sheffield, Milton Keynes, Reading and Plymouth.
The project's aim is to encourage consideration and the use of mediation following an assessment at the court. Academic research has proven that separating couples who are willing to participate in mediation generally manage to settle disputes more cheaply, more quickly and less acrimoniously. Mediated family cases take on average 110 days compared with 435 days for non-mediated cases.
Preliminary results show that, taking into account mediations so far concluded, in 72 per cent of mediations agreement was reached or the dispute was narrowed (the outcomes of 44 cases where further mediation subsequently took place away from the court are still outstanding). Furthermore, in 44 per cent of cases, participating parties had not previously considered mediation.
Nationally in 2008/09, 13,552 mediations were commenced, up from just 400 in 1998. Currently 68 per cent of mediations funded by the LSC reach a full or partial agreement.
According to the LSC the costs of the pilot are close to the anticipated levels. In their evaluation the LSC will consider not only costs as paid for mediator time at court, but also value, which largely depends on how many clients use the service.
Evaluation is still ongoing and will involve receiving feedback from the judiciary and Cafcass officers, as well as mediators.
Sarah Kovach-Clark, Head of Family Policy at the LSC, said: "One in five legal aid clients who experience a family dispute resolve the matter through mediation. It's clearly early days for the evaluation of the pilot but we want to continue to increase this number as we recognise the benefits for those involved, their children and families."