When the Government’s Family Mediation Task Force report
published early in July, a chorus of disapproval was heard from the solicitor
sector. This was slightly surprising, given the lawyer-dominated make-up of the
Task Force itself, a group that had been set up by the Justice Minister to
explore ways of reversing the disastrous post-LASPO crash in the take-up of
It’s easy for those of us working in professional mediation
to wish for more central money to be invested in to our work. So there was a welcome from many
mediators for the recommendation of publicly-funded MIAMs, and an increase in
the fee paid to mediators for MIAMs
for a set period. We’d all welcome more championing and marketing of
mediation from Government too; after all the Government tells us it wants
mediation to thrive.
But other measures aired by the Task Force potentially have
a far greater long-term impact on our profession and on the ability of
mediation to truly recover from the devastating impact of the last 18 months.
Let’s start a proper debate about two of them, both of which involve solicitor
interaction with mediators.
Seeing both parties together
NFM cautiously agrees that the Law Society and SRA should
consider whether regulations should be changed to enable solicitors to see both
parties together where they want that. Our view is that this could be very
helpful where legal advice is required on the options that are being developed
on an ongoing basis in mediation.
But there’s a big ‘if’, in our view. The solicitor really
must be able to demonstrate an understanding of what mediation can achieve and,
perhaps more challengingly, be supportive of mediated outcomes, even if those
outcomes threaten his or her ability to sell additional services to one or both
We believe that at present it is far too easy for solicitors
to disregard and undermine mediated outcomes – going against what’s truly best
for the family
in the long-term,
because the solicitor is representing the interests of just one party.
We also believe this happens far too often. I’m not expecting
solicitors across the land to hold their hands up in admission, but would be
interested in comments. This could be genuinely seen as an opportunity to
put an end to the adversarial nature of family law.
I and other professional mediators fully understand
solicitors want their practices to thrive. But at a time when mediation stands
at a crossroads – the very reason the Task Force was established – the last
thing hard-pressed families need at their time of crisis is to be pushed into
agreeing to pay for legal services they cannot afford, when there are
better-value ways available that will provide them with durable long-term