There was an
awkward moment for Courts and Legal Aid Minister Shailesh Vara when he
appeared before the Commons Justice Select Committee earlier this month and took
questions about the impact of LASPO on mediation.
Misinterpreting a recent NFM statement
about an upturn in referrals to our affiliated services, the Minister appeared
to claim it as evidence that government policy was achieving its stated aim: an
increase in separating people going to family mediation rather than heading
straight off to the family court queue. 'I would like to think,' he said, 'this
is partly due to the MOJ being proactive in making sure that more people are
aware that mediation is available.'
Committee member Andy McDonald referred to evidence NFM ourselves gave to the
same committee in which we explained that referrals received through
government-funded channels are pitifully low. At the time, as McDonald recalled,
we’d had zero referrals through the telephone gateway. Yes, that’s ‘zero’. None.
Nil. And referrals from other government-funded organisations, like CAB, Relate
and CM Options also remain negligible.
But it’s true
that the hard work of NFM’s affiliated services has seen an increase of 30-40
per cent in referrals in some places in recent months. But the rises have come
despite, not because of
government-funded referral routes.
The truth is,
as I revealed to Family Law
readers in my ‘Mediation Matters’ column in October
, the source of referrals to family mediation have flipped on their head
over the past 12 months. NFM now receives fewer approaches from people who have
been sent to us by a solicitor than those who’ve come of their own accord.
Self-referrals to mediation are up significantly, and for this the government’s
‘compulsory MIAM’ legislation must take great credit.
to the Minister explaining this, offering to meet him to explain and share our
data with him.
low referral rates from government-funded sources led the committee to ask the
Minister if the telephone gateway is to be scrapped. Matthew Coats, the Legal
Aid Agency’s Director General, stepped in as the Minister hesitated, pledging to
look into 'the issues with telephone gateway and mediation'. We look forward to
the outcome of that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m confident that
some apparently modest changes made by the government - such as publicly-funding the first mediation session for both parties, even where just one qualifies for legal aid
– will see the public purse get plenty of bang for its buck.
are hopeful this can kick start the necessary culture change surrounding divorce
and separation as more people get to experience mediation without charge.
NFM has been fulsome in
its praise for this initiative. Credit where credit’s due.
But to shrug
off evidence and criticism and, as the Minister appeared to do at committee, to
misquote statistics, doesn’t advance our profession or the contribution it can
make to reducing the cost of family breakdown to the public
The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.