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Family Courts: Counselling

Volume 463: debated on Thursday 19 July 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (1) what proportion of family disputes were (a) successfully mediated, (b) unsuccessfully mediated and (c) not mediated for (i) publicly funded cases, (ii) privately funded cases and (iii) cases in which only one party was publicly funded in each of the last five years; (150033)

(2) what estimate his Department has made of effects on costs of increasing the number of mediated cases in family disputes for both publicly and privately funded cases; and if he will make a statement.

I have been asked to reply.

The Ministry of Justice only have figures for publicly funded mediations. The National Audit Office (NAO) report “Legal aid and mediation for people involved in family breakdown” published in April 2007 found that only 20 per cent. of people who are funded by legal aid for family breakdown currently opt for mediation. The figures for the last five years are as follows:

Total number of mediations

Successful mediations reaching agreement (percentage)

Number of mediations that broke down (percentage)

2002/03

13,841

56

44

2003/04

14,290

60

40

2004/05

14,355

57

43

2005/06

14,128

60

40

2006/07

13,889

66

34

In relation to cases where only one party is legally aided, this data could be obtained only at disproportional cost to the LSC. However, in compiling their report, the NAO did analyse LSC data for the period between October 2004 and March 2006 and found that where one party was publicly funded no agreement was reached in 43 per cent. of cases, compared to 40 per cent. of cases where both parties were publicly funded.

With regard to the assessment of savings, the Legal Services Commission has done some initial work on this, but is currently considering the NAO recommendations and finalising the action plan which may include some assessment of projected savings to the legal aid budget.

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families what assessment he has made of the effects on children in family disputes that have been resolved through (a) mediation and (b) the courts; and if he will make a statement. (150160)

I have been asked to reply.

The information requested is as follows.

Mediation

The Government believe that mediation can offer considerable advantages over going to court in the settling of family disputes, especially where children are involved.

A survey was carried out by the Office for National Statistics in 2002. The survey indicated parents who made their own arrangements for children following relationship breakdown were far more satisfied than when the courts ordered arrangements. The policy aim is to increase the proportion of parents making arrangement for themselves. Mediation is one way of helping these parents.

The provisions of the Children and Adoption Act 2006 will enable the court to direct parties in child contact disputes to attend a meeting about mediation. Referrals will also be encouraged through changes to court rules and forms, particularly in relation to disputes over children.

The National Audit Office Report on legal aid and family mediation published in March 2007 was supportive of family mediation and concluded mediation could resolve cases significantly more quickly and could also reduce legal aid costs. However, it did not include a specific evaluation of effects on children.

Courts

The Ministry of Justice (then DCA) has commissioned various pieces of research, which considered the effect on children in family disputes that have been resolved through the courts.

A report by Liz Trinder published in March 2006, evaluated the process and effectiveness of in-court conciliation in contact cases as well as the relative effectiveness of three different models of in-court conciliation. In-court conciliation is another way to help parents reach agreement themselves.

In September 2006, the consultation paper on the Separate Representation of Children was published. The consultation considered how to provide better outcomes for children whose parents are separating and to safeguard their interests in section 8 Children Act 1989 proceedings when their parents have turned to the courts to decide where the child shall live, and who the child should see. It also considered the question of judges and magistrates speaking directly to children to help them obtain an informed picture of the case. The consultation ended on 8 December and a response is due to be published shortly.