Family Law Crisis? Call the mediator!
This week the New Law Journal reports that cuts to legal aid in family law have led to a crisis with many vulnerable parties being left without representation. The family courts have been left in chaos, it is reported, with a combination of unrepresented litigants, lack of compliance with court procedure, vulnerable parties without support of guidance and cases being conducted in different languages without proper signposting to agencies that could assist.
The journal cites two cases in point: Tufali v Riaz  EWHC 1829 (Fam) where the Judge struggled to hear a case with two unrepresented parties and one requiring an interpreter. There was no agreed bundle of documents and one party continuously faxed and emailed the court. The case occupied a full day of court time with the Judge concluding that “the circumstances in which I am considering this case could hardly be more unsatisfactory”.
The unfortunate Holman J had a repeat experience soon after in Kinderis v Kineriene  EWHC 4139 (Fam) a case involving child abduction which was delayed for nearly 8 weeks due to a lack of public funding. In the event legal aid was refused and a vulnerable mother with little English was left to conduct a complex and serious case on her own.
Such cases are set to increase with charities reporting that an average of up to two children are abducted by parents each day, and a crisis in funding leading to insufficient provision of women’s refuges. It is not uncommon for emergency arrangements to be unavailable over weekends.
With the family courts struggling to cope, the Government had hoped that mediation would fill a much needed gap. Unfortunately however, the predicted 40% rise in family mediation has not materialised; rather there has been a 45% drop in the number of family mediations. The New Law Journal suggests that this is because most referrals (some 93%) came from solicitors and this important source of referrals has been cut.
Minister of Justice Simon Hughes declared on coming into office in December 2013 that: “mediation works and we are committed to making sure that more people make use of it, rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of going to court”. Such a commitment is not reflected in the current context of savage cuts to those who can provide advice and guidance.
It is hoped that the failing strategy for encouraging the use of mediation in family cases is re-visited and that those in need of a quicker, cheaper and more effective solution will have more access to such an important service.
CEDR Accredited Mediator, LLB (Hons), Barrister, FRSA
Managing Director of Global Mediation, Head of Argent Law Mediation Team