UK Family Law Reform

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Family Conciliation Services
Justice

Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South, Liberal Democrat)

To ask the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice what plans she has (a) to promote the use of family mediation prior to the commencement of divorce proceedings and (b) to fund an expansion of family mediation services; and if she will make a statement.

Harriet Harman (Minister of State, Ministry of Justice; Camberwell and Peckham, Labour)

The Government believe that mediation can offer considerable advantages over going to court in the settling of family disputes, especially where children are involved. To support this, the Family Mediation Helpline (0845 60 26 627) began operating in January 2006. The helpline provides information about family mediation, advice as to the likely suitability of specific cases for mediation and details of and referrals to local mediation services. To date, the helpline has received 2,900 calls, made over 1,100 referrals to mediation services and there have been around 10,000 visits made to the supporting website at http://www.familymediationhelpline.co.uk/. In order to ensure the Helpline becomes better known, publicity materials, including a family mediation DVD produced in conjunction with National Family Mediation to provide information about family mediation to members of the public, have been widely distributed to all family courts, Citizens' Advice bureaux and family solicitors.

There are 10 in-court referral to mediation schemes, where family mediators work together with the courts and often with CAFCASS to refer appropriate cases. We are undertaking judicial awareness seminars across England and Wales aimed at raising awareness among judges and magistrates.

Finally, the Legal Services Commission's proposals to revise the family fee structure will remove the financial disincentives for solicitors to make referrals to mediation, which has historically been alleged by the mediation profession to be an obstacle to increasing mediation referrals. Under the proposals it would be in the interests of the solicitor to make a referral to mediation and also at an earlier stage.

Publicly funded family mediation is available to eligible clients who have what is defined as a family dispute. If publicly funded clients are in receipt of private law family legal advice, then they are obliged to consider the use of family mediation before they proceed to a court hearing. The Legal Services Commission is actively seeking to increase the use of mediation and encourage appropriate referrals.

At this stage, there are no plans to fund an expansion of family mediation services many of which are private businesses and run for profit.

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