It is concerning to note that government statistics recently released seem to demonstrate that there has been a significant downturn in the take up of legally aided mediation for family cases in the last three months of 2016.
Despite the same statistics stating that there is a high (62%) success rate in achieving agreement, especially when mediation involves disputes regarding children, it seems that less people are accessing mediation as a means of resolving family disputes, even when they could do so at no cost to themselves.
One of the justifications for continuing to make legal aid available for mediation (as opposed to legal representation) was to encourage the use of mediation as a preferred means of parents resolving disputes regarding children and of separating couples resolving financial issues on separation. The fact that mediation starts are 14% down on the same period last year suggests either that people are choosing not to mediate or that they are unaware of the clear advantages of mediation in terms of less cost to themselves and less acrimony between the parties than would be involved with court proceedings.
Or is it that the issues are simply not being addressed at all? With the lack of legal aid for legal representation and the lack of promotion of mediation there is a real risk that this could lead to a generation of children who remain estranged from one of their parents; will it lead to a time bomb of financial issues which remain unresolved creating significant problems in the future for couples who are separating now?
One can only hope that the MOJ takes on board the implications of the recent legal aid statistics and puts some effort into promoting or publicising mediation or even reconsidering the withdrawal of legal aid for legal representation on family matters. All the indications are, however, that this is highly unlikely.