A brighter future for family justice?

On 20 August 2014 the government published a document called “A brighter future for Family Justice”

This describes itself as “a round up of what’s happened since the Family Justice Review”

Here is a link to the full document which can be downloaded from the government website. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/346005/family-justice-review-update.pdf

Free Mediation Meetings

There is not a lot that is new in this document, the publication of which, coincided with an announcement by the Minister Simon Hughes to make the first actual mediation session free of charge to both parties provided that one of them could prove they were eligible to receive legal aid. I published a post about that announcement yesterday which included a link to the relevant press release.

Faster Child Law Cases

Amongst the data contained within the first part of “A brighter future for Family Justice” were statistics showing that real progress was being made in completing childcare cases if possible/normally/(unless there is an exceptional reason why not) within a 26 week period.

These type of cases routinely used to take over a year to complete. Such a length of time was usually far too long. I have been a member of the Law Society Children Panel which is also known as the Law Society Child Law Accreditation Scheme, continuously since 1996. I have witnessed the speeding up of cases first hand. Generally the changes have worked well. One of the biggest delays in cases used to be delays with the timescales of experts for experts to prepare assessments. Now reports are obtained less routinely, but when they are they are generally provided within much shorter timescales. It is also the case that there is much greater judicial continuity.

I can remember dealing with quite a number of complex cases over the years where it seemed like we had a different judge make decisions at every hearing. Cases could have a life of their own and their was too little judicial management. That is no longer the case and generally speaking, one judge will deal with the case in its entirety from start to finish. This helps to drive the case through in a purposeful way. This is not to say that parents are not given a fair opportunity to disprove allegations against them or to make changes.

There is also increased pressure on social services to prove allegations and to undertake thorough assessments . From my experience both Devon county council and Somerset county council social services are under extreme pressure, but when a case is in proceedings assessments are generally carried out in a timely way and to a good quality in part because there is greater scrutiny from the judiciary. What can happen before proceedings is another matter but I will leave that to a different day .

The Mediation Crisis in graphic detail

I am republishing below an extract from “A brighter future for Family Justice” which shows very graphically the reduction in the amount of legally aided mediation that has taken place in the last two years as well as an increase in applications being made court about contact issues .

The number of people attending mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs)  has more than halved . There has been a reduction in significant reduction in mediation cases being started and a reduction in the number of mediation cases being concluded successfully .

The only silver lining is that there seem to be a greater portion of mediation cases starting that concluded successfully . My own experience is that  my clients who enter mediation are able to find common ground in the majority of cases. My success rate seems to be at least in line if not better than the government statistics which is good to see .

What is clear is that if the governments are pushing a pro-mediation agenda they do need to be supporting couples into mediation in a way which requires money being spent . Unfortunately as I write this there is still nothing on the website of the legal aid agency to say when the new arrangements for increased first free first mediation sessions comes into effect ! I’m sure it will be there eventually .

mediation stats


Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation is based in Honiton and covers East Devon, Exeter and Taunton. We are the only mediation service with a Legal Aid Contract that is based in East Devon.

Our Solicitors practice has a contract with the Legal Aid Agency to offer Legal Aid for family cases to those who can prove that they are eligible to receive it.



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