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Volume 575: debated on Tuesday 4 February 2014

9. What assessment he has made of the potential role of mediation in reducing the number of court cases. (902382)

The Government have put in place an extensive awareness strategy, and we believe that the more people can attend mediation, the more significant the impact will be on reducing the number of applications made to court. We have increased the legal aid budget for family mediation. There are data about the amount of mediation that takes place, but we cannot tell specifically who has attended mediation rather than gone to court.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment. Does he agree that mediation is well established in the commercial law field and growing in the family and matrimonial law field, but that we are perhaps missing a trick in two areas? The first is in ensuring that more use is made of mediation in land compensation and related planning disputes. Will he meet me to discuss whether the Bill on High Speed 2 gives the Government an opportunity to promote that and to create greater awareness among fellow Departments, and—

Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman that if he was paid by the word when he was practising at the Bar, he must have become a very rich man indeed.

First, the whole Government are committed to mediation being used whenever possible, although it is not always practical. HS2 and other such matters are well beyond my brief, and I am not going to be that brave on my first outing.

In recent months, I have dealt with several cases for constituents, including one in which a constituent was presented with a £15,000 legal bill for civil court costs over the siting of his rubbish bin. Another constituent lost a case after failed joint legal action with the local council, when his wall collapsed after being damaged by a utility company. Will the Minister outline what measures the Government are taking to increase the number of such cases that are taken to mediation services before such costly legal action occurs?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to identify the costs involved. In matrimonial and other matters, if there is mediation the average cost to both parties is £500; if they go to law the average cost is £4,000. Mediation takes 110 days on average; going to law takes 435 days. The Government are committed to ensuring that we use mediation wherever possible, and we will collectively promote it heavily over the next few weeks. There will be a round table and a web interchange, and it will be one of the priorities for me and the Ministry of Justice.

The whole House agrees that mediation is preferable to ordinary members of the public falling into the hands of lawyers. However, given that the Government’s emphasis on mediation is largely driven by cost, is there not a danger that in family law, women will be left vulnerable to violence and abuse because of the emphasis on mediation rather than immediate legal redress?

That issue is very important and well understood. Under the Children and Families Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, there will be a requirement that people consider whether mediation is appropriate. We are clear that in domestic abuse cases, it absolutely may not be appropriate, and there will be no requirement of mediation in cases in which it would be to the disadvantage of either party or to the children of the family.

17. What guarantee can the Minister give that both parties will have access to legal advice before and during mediation? (902390)

At the moment, legal advice and legal aid cover mediation. Someone does not necessarily need legal advice to go into the process, although the mediators may recommend that they need legal advice, which will be available in a legally aided way. It is often necessary to have lawyers involved to draw up the agreement that the mediators have reached, and that will also be publicly fundable by the legal aid service if someone is within the eligibility limits.

Will the Minister advise the House on the take-up of mediation in the small claims courts since the threshold for small claims was increased to £10,000?

I do not have that figure in front of me, but I will willingly give it to the hon. Gentleman and make it known more widely. I am clear that we have a duty to re-engage people with the idea that mediation is available. The figures have gone down in some areas in the past year, and we want them to go up. We hope to be able to report a significant increase in the number of people using mediation by the end of the year, but I will of course give him the figures.

We know that the Secretary of State is not a big fan of due process, because otherwise he would not have briefed The Times this morning on how the criminal justice and courts Bill will keep developers and other Tory donors happy by curbing judicial review—a subject on which he has not yet responded to consultation. However, Ministers should play by the rules when answering questions in the Chamber, so will the Minister correct the record for Justice questions on 17 December, when the Secretary of State said three times that there would be no change in the number of mediations, even though his Department’s figures show a year-on-year fall of 35%?

First, on matters in the legislation to be announced I caution the hon. Gentleman to be careful of being overly critical.

It is certainly not all in the press, and the Bill might be much more encouraging to people than the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) might wish it to be. On the take-up of mediation, we do not have the figure for a full year but it is unarguable that figures have gone down. We are making sure, and we are hoping, that when we have the full-year figures, we will see that we have reversed that. I will keep the House and the hon. Gentleman updated about those figures over the year ahead.