In order to promote the use of mediation as a first step towards dispute resolution for separating families, as of 22 April 2014 it is now a legislative requirement that anyone considering applying to court for an order about their children or finances is legally obliged to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) first, unless specific exemptions apply (for example domestic violence).
Following this legislative change, attendance at MIAMs increased in consecutive quarters, with 4,023 couples attending a MIAM between Jul-Sept 2014, which is a rise of 11% from the previous quarter and 20% from Jul-Sept 2013. Mediation starts are also rising, with an increase from 1783 in the period Apr-Jun 2014 to 1896 in the period Jul-Sep 2014.
We know that there is a perception by some people that legal aid no longer covers mediation or legal help for mediation. This is not the case, and it is vital that this message is communicated as effectively as possible. Legal aid remains available for family mediation and for legal advice to support family mediation. In addition, as of 3 November 2014, the first single session of mediation is publicly funded in all cases provided one of the people involved is already legally aided. In these cases, both participants will be funded for the MIAM and for the first session of mediation. The combination of the compulsory MIAM and free first mediation session will help to introduce more people to the benefits of mediation, and away from the courts.
A communications campaign - ‘First Stop: Family Mediation’ - has been launched to promote family mediation, and how to access it, and publicising the availability of legal aid for those who are eligible. The campaign went live on 2 January 2015 and includes online advertising, Google key word searches and Google Display adverts that direct people to the Family Mediation Council website and in particular, the find your local mediator tool. Other initiatives included a sponsored Q&A discussion on Mumsnet as well as a social media campaign and media relations in the consumer media. This has resulted in a 320% increase in visitors to the FMC website in the first two months of the year as of 28 February this year compared to the last six months of 2014. The campaign runs until 20 March.
To support the mediation profession, with MoJ assistance and guidance, the Family Mediation Council introduced a new Professional Standards Framework from 1 January 2015. This will provide the basis for a much needed consistent approach in how mediators should operate. It will allow the general public - the clients of mediation – to be confident in the service that is being provided; they will know what it means to go to mediation; they will understand that mediators are to be trusted as properly trained and accredited practitioners; and most importantly, they will know they are protected by a properly regulated profession.
More widely, the Government actively encourages mediation in civil litigation cases through its support of the small-claims mediation service, and the mediation referral website. Signposting literature in the Courts, various provisions in the Civil Procedure Rules and the numerous pre-action protocols promote this. In addition the MoJ has received the Civil Justice Council’s report on Online Dispute Resolution for Low Value Civil Claims, and will respond in due course.