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I believe that courts should be the last resort for people in civil and family disputes.  I have been actively looking at how we can best support people going through separation and divorce using other options to court.

Mediation can be a flexible, speedy and cost effective way to resolve family disputes. Mediation is a confidential process. It enables both parties to explain and discuss their needs and concerns with each other in the presence of an independent third party – the mediator – so that they have the opportunity to reach an agreement between themselves.

Since 6 April, under a new protocol agreed with the Judiciary, privately funded separating or divorcing couples must now assess whether mediation would be a better way of resolving their disputes. This means that the couple, unless exempted, will go to a mediation awareness session where both find out what the process can offer before deciding if it is right for them.  

The mediation awareness session will not apply to parties in agreement where there is no dispute to mediate.

I recently met a divorced father who had been through the courts to establish financial settlements around his divorce, but was using mediation to agree contact arrangements for his children.  He told me that divorcing through the courts had cost him a fortune, and had ‘finished him off financially as well as emotionally’.  He said using mediation to talk about contact arrangements with his children meant he could find some common ground to negotiate on, where he could say ‘I agree on that, not necessarily with that, but the principle is ok’.  This meeting led to him agreeing a rota to see his children on a regular basis.

Mediation will not always be right for everyone.  For instance, in cases of domestic violence, child abduction or forced marriage, it is right and proper that the courts should be involved. In such cases, if required, we will give people the support they need to get to court. We will still fund cases of mediation through legal aid.   

We are not dictating how people should conduct their private lives. We are giving people the opportunity to find out about how they might solve their problems more quickly and cost effectively between themselves rather than going to court and relying on others to dictate how they live their lives.

Mediation can cost a quarter of the price and take a quarter of the time, compared to going to court. National Audit Office figures on legally-aided mediation show that the average time for a mediated case to be completed is 110 days, compared to 435 days for court cases on similar issues. Legal Aid cases also show the average cost per client of mediation is £535 compared to £2,823 for cases going to court.
I would also like more people to consider mediation to resolve a whole range of everyday civil disputes – including housing issues, money, and community problems such as nuisance or harassment. The courts offer a Small Claims Mediation Service for claims valued below £5,000 that are already going through the courts.

The courts should be a place to resolve only the most difficult or complex legal issues. Mediation provides an important way of empowering individuals and families to find the best solution to their problems.

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Written by Jonathan Djanogly MP   
Wednesday, 11 May 2011 10:27
Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 May 2011 09:35

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