News from NFM: ‘Major failure’ decimated family mediation provision, just when it was most needed, report concludes

Commenting on a new report on civil legal aid reforms, published today by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, National Family Mediation Chief Executive Jane Robey said:

“The report rightly criticises the government’s failure to see how removing legal aid funding would reduce the number of referrals from solicitors to family mediation.

“As the report states, family mediation enables family disputes to be resolved through mediation in a way that is ‘cheaper, quicker and, according to academic research, less acrimonious than those that are settled through the courts.’

“But there was a major failure at government level to promote these key advantages to people who need to be steered away from what has become, over the past 30 years or so, the traditional ‘solicitor-family court’ route for divorcing couples.

“As far as family mediation is concerned, the government was in denial about the impact assessment undertaken prior to implementation of the Act. And as we had predicted – and warned them - it led to the near-collapse of what had previously been a strong nationwide family mediation network.

“The government too slowly learned the lessons taught by the devastating impact of legal aid cuts.

“Whilst the introduction of compulsory mediation awareness meetings (MIAMs) in April 2014 was a step in the right direction, this law change came 386 days after the legal aid cuts were implemented. This gap led to the collapse of a number of mediation services which found that the flow of referrals had simply dried up. These were the very organisations that were best-placed to assist the government in delivering the cultural shift from courtroom battle to family mediation that it sought.

“Legislation that should have meant more opportunities for mediation providers had the reverse effect.

“National Family Mediation members have been picking up the pieces and, whilst the journey has been a turbulent one, the tireless work of services which survived has begun to put them on the road to recovery.”

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts report, Implementing reforms to civil legal aid, is available here.