First anniversary of Mediation Assessment Meetings marked, as survey reveals they are not working as they should

News Release

04 Apr 2012

6th April marks the first anniversary of rules coming into force requiring divorcing couples to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM), to find out about alternatives to court (such as collaborative law and arbitration), before being able to issue a court application in relation to their financial or children issues.

Introduced against the backdrop of the Family Justice Review, the government, who were keen to divert more couples away from the courts, decided that from 6th April 2011, anyone wishing to issue an application through the family court would first have to attend a MIAM.

To gauge the effect of the new rules, Resolution commissioned a member survey last month. It has generated responses from users of over 100 courts across England and Wales and highlighted a wide range of experiences. The results show:

· 56% of survey respondents said that court staff are not regarding it as compulsory that a party issuing an application should show evidence of having attended a MIAM.

· 78% of respondents said that their local courts are not making an enquiry at the first court hearing or even at all, as to whether alternative dispute resolution is appropriate.

· 89% of respondents reported that only 0-10% of their clients had self-referred to a MIAM.

· Almost one-third of respondents said they had referred the majority of their clients (91-100%) to a MIAM. However one-fifth of the respondents had only referred a small minority of their clients (0-10%) to a MIAM.

The survey also revealed the huge variation in how courts in different regions are interpreting the rules. Respondents were asked to name the courts they use and the difference in approach between courts (and between individual judges within courts) was striking.

Overall, respondents’ feelings about MIAMs were mixed. Some reported positively the higher level of mediations as a result of increased awareness. This is supported by Resolution’s own figures that show that mediations increased by 51% between 2010 and 2011.

Many survey respondents made the point that those Resolution lawyers who are trained mediators and/or collaborative lawyers (about one-third) can readily identify cases which will need court intervention, so see MIAMs as a fruitless additional hurdle. Others expressed concern about the cost to clients of MIAMs.

In a recent speech to Resolution members, the President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall, acknowledged the shortcomings of the scheme:

“May I… apologise for the fact that MIAMs are not working as they should in certain parts of the country. The position is that the government insisted on the “pre-action protocol” with every would-be litigant going to a MIAM as a pre-condition of instituting proceedings. At the same time the government refused to make attendance at a MIAM compulsory, on the ground that compulsory mediation was a contradiction in terms. The result, in some places, has been that the pre-action protocol is not being followed”.

The president concluded by urging practitioners to press the court to make proper use of its powers to encourage parties to use alternatives to court, at every stage of a court process.

The Ministry of Justice has been monitoring whether they can see an increase in MIAMs as compared to assessment meetings previously. Judicial statistics are also being monitored closely to determine changes in the numbers of applications coming before the Court and at what stage they are being compromised. In the Principal Registry, a 6% drop in private law cases has been reported since last April.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

1. Resolution is a group of over 6,500 family lawyers and professionals in England and Wales. It promotes a non-confrontational, constructive approach to resolving family disputes. To find out more, visit http://www.resolution.org.uk/

2. The full text of the President’s speech is available on request.

For more information please contact: Victoria Sutton – Communications Manager at Resolution on 0203 195 0191 or email victoria.sutton@resolution.org.uk