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Covid-19 has seen the already stretched Family Justice System come under even more pressure. Many separating families are unsure where to turn to, and therefore end up becoming trapped within the court system. This can exacerbate family conflict and divert resources away from the families that are really in need of access to the court system.
In light of this issue the Family Mediation Council have submitted proposals to the Ministry of Justice to assist separating families during the coronavirus pandemic and ease the extra burden that is anticipated to fall on already stretched family courts.
The proposals include the Ministry of Justice paying for all Mediation Information Assessment Meetings (MIAM), ways to ensure better enforcement of current rules surrounding attendance at Mediation Information Assessment Meetings and an online duty mediator scheme. The proposals in summary are:
Research carried out by the Family Mediation Council suggests that when family mediators see both clients for a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting they have a high conversion rate of 73% to mediation. However, very often, one person (usually the potential respondent, who is not going to pay a court application fee) refuses to attend a the meeting due to the cost.
The cost to government if they offered free Mediation Information Assessment Meetings to couples considering litigation is believed to be far less than the enormous public costs of dealing with family litigation at current levels.
There is concern that the diversion of cases to non-court based dispute resolution processes appears to often get neglected as a Key Performance Indicator for the court and therefore the facilitation of it cannot be expected to take priority over set targets. It is therefore proposed that new Key Performance Indicators be created that measure and acknowledge genuine court efforts to promote mediation and other forms of non-court based dispute resolution.
It is proposed that an online duty mediator scheme be set up at court to be provided by accredited Family Mediators.
As well as assisting litigants to see if non-court based dispute resolution options could assist them if mediators were more readily accessible to judges and parties at court, then the prospect of enabling the Court to consider at every stage in proceedings, whether alternative dispute resolution is appropriate would be greater.
The proposals have been shared with the President of the Family Division and his Private Law Working Group, CAFCASS and the National Association of Child Contact Centres as well as all of the Family Mediation Council member organisations.
So, what can you do to help?
The key is for the proposals to gain as much support as possible from MPs. Therefore, if you are a practitioner working within the family justice system – as we have done here at Family Law Partners – write to your MP to notify them of the proposals and ask them to support them. You can find details of your local MP here.
You can read the Family Mediation Council’s proposal in full here.