Mediation funding is only one solution to family court backlog

News of an additional £5.4 million investment in a mediation voucher scheme to help families resolve legal issues outside court was given a cautious welcome by the Law Society of England and Wales today, as it warned more is needed to address the family courts backlog.

The latest family court statistics show there are an estimated 58,762 new family cases waiting to be heard.*

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “The cases that go to court are often complex and may not be suitable for mediation. So while we welcome the UK government’s efforts to steer clients away from court via mediation, this is just one remedy of many that are needed to address the backlog of cases.

“We have repeatedly said early legal advice for family law cases should be restored.”**

“By restoring early legal advice for family law cases, fewer cases will go to court. Instead, solicitors could assist negotiated settlements, referral to mediation and better manage client expectations.

“Solicitors are best placed to assess all alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options with their clients, and to keep them out of court where possible and in the best interests of their clients.

“The family courts are under immense pressure, and people with private law cases are experiencing unprecedented delays.

“A thorough investigation should be conducted into the impact of families having to represent themselves on the effective operation of the courts and the increase in backlogs.”

The voucher scheme is administered by the Family Mediation Council (FMC) on behalf of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and provides a £500 voucher to put towards the cost of mediation for families in England and Wales.

According to the MoJ, since its launch in March 2021, 8,400 vouchers have been used, 65% of cases reached a whole or partial agreement, 3% attended court to formalise their agreement and 50% said they wouldn’t have considered mediation had the voucher not been on offer.

I. Stephanie Boyce concluded: “We look forward to continuing to work with the FMC, MoJ and our family mediation members to evaluate the scheme.

“We urge the MoJ to restore legal aid for early legal advice in family cases to help families swiftly resolve deeply distressing cases that often involve children, as well as ease the backlog of cases in the family courts.”

Notes to editors

* Family court statistics quarterly: October to December 2021

** Early legal advice for family cases was cut by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in 2013

Read the UK government’s release on the family mediation voucher scheme

The family mediation voucher scheme will run until 31 March 2023.

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