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Volume 583: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2014

18. What steps his Department is taking to encourage use of mediation so that going to court is a last resort. (904581)

This April, a statutory obligation was introduced for separating couples to consider mediation when there are children or family implications. Obviously, they do not have to go through with mediation, but it must be considered, and is supported by legal aid. Last week Sir David Norgrove produced a report for me, which I commend to my hon. Friend. It suggests that we could significantly increase the number of disputes that go to mediation—currently, about 30% go to court—and that 30% could probably be resolved by mediation in the future.

Court orders for access arrangements for young children are a snapshot of the circumstances prevailing at a particular time, but such circumstances change rapidly as children grow up and their parents’ relationships and personal situations change. As a return to court to vary a court order can be harrowing, divisive and costly, will the Minister assure me that the Government will redouble their efforts to make mediation a meaningful alternative?

We are doing absolutely all we can to do that. We have consulted with the mediation industry and done publicity locally and regionally. The Government have an obligation to ensure that, whenever possible, disputes do not take place in public, as that exposes the private lives of families and children in particular. We believe that we can significantly reduce, down to 5%, the number of cases that go to court, and significantly increase—up to 30%, we hope—the number of cases resolved by mediation. We will do absolutely everything we can, and I am sure that we will see progress over the months ahead.