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Family Law

Justice written question – answered on 18th July 2013.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice

(1) what steps he has put in place to promote the availability of new legal aid-funded family mediation since 1 April 2013;

(2) what assessment he has made of the level of enquiries to all legally aided family mediation services since 1 April 2013;

(3) what proportion of cases have been heard in the family division before a district judge where an FM1 form has not been completed between April 2012 and March 2013; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Legal aid for family mediation has been available since 1997 and this continues as a result of the reforms to legal aid implemented in April 2013. This includes the provision of legal advice, where appropriate, to support the mediation process.

The coalition Government is making full use of communication channels available to it to ensure that the public has access to information when they need it, including the availability of legal aid to fund family mediation. The ‘Sorting Out Separation’ web app launched in November 2012 provides the key gateway for separating parents and couples to access help, advice and services.

We are also continuing to work with organisations such as Citizens Advice to ensure accurate information continues to be given to the public about family mediation following legal aid changes. As part of the Government's commitment to promote family mediation we recently launched a short animation film which has been posted on YouTube and on a number of partner websites.

A court guide for separated parents has just been published and will shortly be accompanied by three videos explaining key stages of the court process. The guide makes clear the need to consider family mediation and contains links to the family mediation service tinder website from which the public can locate a qualified and assured family mediator.

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) collates data on the number of publicly funded Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) attended and on mediation starts. Monthly figures from April 2012 are set out in the following table. Referrals to publicly funded MIAMs rose 42% in March 2013 due to a large surge in applications for legal aid ahead of the changes implemented from 1 April 2013. LAA data show a decrease in such MIAMs of 30% in April based on the same period in 2012 and provisional figures for May show a further significant decrease. It is still too early to assess the steady-state position given that there were an additional 10,000 applications for legal aid certificates most of which occurred in the final weeks of March.

  Couples attending a MIAM
2012  
April 2,316
May 2,829
June 2,236
July 2,631
August 2,403
September 2,343
October 2,619
November 2,454
December 1,615
   
2013  
January 2,443
February 2,783
March 4,037
April 1,585
May 1,204

The Ministry of Justice does not routinely collate data on whether or not a Form FM1 has been filed in any cases heard in the family division.

Research commissioned by this Department to commence shortly will include a court file based study of cases and include an assessment of the level of compliance in tiling Form FM1 and the type of responses entered.

A clause in the Children and Families Bill currently before Parliament would require all applicants to the court in relevant family proceedings (with exemptions) to first attend a MIAM before issuing proceedings to find out about and consider mediation. We expect this measure to increase the volume of MIAMs attended.

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