Simon Hughes, our Justice Minister, made a speech at the annual Family Mediation Conference this week, summing up the issues surrounding the family sector, mediation and the latest developments in the field.
The speech, which is entitled, “Mediation: a central part of family justice”, speaks for itself in many ways – a bolstering nod to the mediation quarter, advocating for increased awareness, and use of mediation and its potential benefits.
At Researching Reform, we take the view that mediation in a family law context can only work if the parties firstly trust each other to some degree, and can talk without being overwhelmed by emotion. For those reasons, mediation is bound to fail unless those issues are addressed first and if the less than impressive attendance figures for mediation over the last two years are anything to go by, the government might as well be bashing their heads against a mediation wall, as they are clearly not listening.
That said, Hughe’s speech was sensitive to the already delicate legal sector, badly grazed from legal aid cuts, dwindling resources and a lack of public appreciation for the services on offer. He went on to talk about the latest developments, too. The latest legislation now makes it mandatory to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting), unless there are domestic violence concerns. The MIAM will then be followed up by one free mediation session in the hope that it will draw people in to the service. However, the free session will only be available if one party is already legally aided – which affects about 70% of all cases, at this point. This measure has been put in place for the next three years.
Hughes also expressed a desire to allow children over the age of 10 to have a more active role in proceedings (something he has said before), notwithstanding that younger children may also be able to express their wishes and feelings, too. Hughes is going to set up an advisory body for this area to ensure best practice and the prioritising of child welfare in all family mediation.
Simon also attempts to engage the legal profession in his endeavour and offers further reading materials, all of which you can catch on the speech page itself (linked to above).
With his recent rally cry to have children’s access to legal aid reviewed, Simon Hughes is certainly trying – but we need a little more finesse, and a lot more thought into how to make the system better, for everyone.