"Many think that legal aid is only available if you can get through the domestic violence gateway, which is not the case. This is why NFM hope to promote access to legal aid for mediation."
Following a request from Family Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer MP, National Family Mediation (NFM) have outlined a number of proposals that aim to increase and improve the take-up of Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs).
Stronger use of existing court powers
First on the agenda for the NFM is to tackle the imbalance of power between the courts and supporting services such as mediation. Whilst NFM acknowledge the excellent work being undertaken to make applications for divorce and other legal proceedings available online, they hope that these simple, straightforward application processes are rolled out on a national level in the near future in order to help improve MIAM take-up.
Within the document which outlines new proposals to mediation services, NFM state that despite the encouraging changes being made via online applications, the improvements do not and cannot address the issue of the respondent’s non attendance. As a result of MIAM compulsory attendance being largely ignored, the courts face time pressures which in turn, increase tax payer costs. NFM believe that unless the power and influence of the judiciary in managing cases is tackled, the take-up of MIAMs will never improve.
The family mediation provider and charity have proposed to introduce court targets for MIAM attendance, as well as more rigorous gate-keeping of applications to court where a MIAM has not been attended in order to address the issues at hand.
NFM believes that when given the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the President’s office, the department will be able to ensure greater success by increasing the number of people who choose to seek alternatives to court proceedings in the form of family mediation. NFM also believes that this would give the courts the time required to focus on other cases where intervention is a must.
Making MIAMs free of charge
The second proposal put forward by National Family Mediation is to make MIAMs free of charge. Despite mediation services being suitable for a number of people, few actually take advantage of them. Therefore, in order for mediation to prove itself as a sustainable and successful alternative to court proceedings, and for potential clients to try it for themselves, incentives must be provided.
NFM fears that the lack of knowledge and awareness surrounding mediation services has left people reluctant to invest in a service that they do not fully understand. NFM have suggested that by making compulsory MIAMs free of charge, attendance rates will improve and conversion to full mediation will become more popular.
Potential mediation clients may also be hesitant to use meditation services as they believe they don’t qualify for financial help via legal aid.
The NFM also hope that the eligibility criteria for access to legal aid and help with court fees is revisited and adapted in the following months so that as a result, the take-up of MIAMs is both increased and improved.
Reviewing legal aid funding
The payment rates provided to mediators have not increased in the past 20 years, and paired with harsh funding cuts, mediation services now need additional funding to stay afloat as a realistic alternative to traditional court proceedings.
Since the introduction of LASPO, the government spend on mediation has dropped by 50% and it now needs to be re-invested in order to improve access for the public says NFM.
NFM proposes that a statutory charge should be introduced for legal services, which becomes chargeable on completion of mediation, alongside a review to the pay structure for such services.
The document which outlines the NFM proposals to boost take-up of MIAMs, has been written “in the spirit of collaboration and co-operation” and aims to tackle the falling levels of mediation services and their use, whilst increasing overall awareness of the legal alternatives available to the public.
For more information on family mediation, please contact Midlands Dove.