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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Simon Hughes announces more free mediation sessions for separating couples

Couples should avoid confrontational courtroom battles and use mediation to sort out disputes over their property, finances and children, Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes said today as he announced that more free mediation sessions will be funded by Government. Last year nearly two thirds of couples who attended a single mediation session for a child dispute reached a full agreement. Almost seven out of every ten couples who opted for mediation reached an agreement.

The announcement of a single mediation session for both parties if one of them is already legally aided is the latest stage of sweeping reforms to improve the family justice system and follows recommendations made by the independent Mediation Task Force. The recommendations the Government are taking forward include:

  • Funding ‘one single mediation session for everyone’, if one of the parties is already legally aided. (At present only the legally aided party can have the session for free, meaning there is a cost for the other member of the couple, which can deter them from taking part);
  • Setting up an advisory group of experts to improve practice and make sure mediation is focussed on the best outcomes for any children involved;
  • Reviewing future Legal Aid Agency (LAA) contracts with mediation providers to improve service;
  • Exploring options for reforming the management of the mediation sector, and
  • Expanding the ongoing campaign to increase awareness of mediation and legal help for mediation, and the availability of legal aid for it.

Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes MP said: "Earlier this year we introduced major reforms to the family justice system to reduce delays and keep families away from court. But this is not the end of the process. Too many families still end up in court locked in confrontational, damaging and expensive court battles. We know mediation works and we want more people to make use of it. This is why we are announcing today funding for free mediation sessions, improving the advice and information available for couples who are separating.”

This announcement comes on the back of the implementation of the most significant family justice system reforms in a generation. The Government is publishing today ‘A Brighter Future for Family Justice’, a document which sets out what has been achieved since the publication of the family justice review. We are closely monitoring the family justice system and further work is planned over the coming months. This will include an assessment of ways to provide better information and advice for separating parents so that fewer couples use the courts when their disputes can be better resolved by other means.

The Ministry of Justice is also working with judges and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) on a pilot scheme to fund DNA and drug/alcohol tests for cases involving children. The pilot is exploring how expert reports are commissioned, how experts can affect the length and progress of cases and how the quality of expert reports can help the court to reach just and timely decisions.