Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly visited an innovative legal advice surgery based at a GPs’ practice in Surrey.
The visit formed part of the ongoing work by the Government to raise awareness of mediation - a way separating couples can work out the details of their divorce without a court battle.
Creating links between GPs and legal advisers means doctors can help direct their patients towards legal services. Doctors are often first to see the signs of strain in families which are breaking up, in both the parents and children.
Jonathan Djanogly said: ‘Mediation can be quicker, cheaper and provide better outcomes than going to court. We want to make sure everyone who wants to issue family proceedings is aware of mediation and has the opportunity to find out about it and consider it as a way to resolve their disputes.
‘One way that can happen is if people like GPs, who may identify problems at an early stage, can guide the public to understand the options available to them.’
Dr Howard Cohen, from the Elizabeth House Surgery said: ‘Anything that allows families suffering break-ups to enter into constructive early intervention which might minimise the impact on them, especially the children, is to be welcomed.
‘We see mediation as a very constructive and appropriate way forward for many families. By creating an environment that is safe and natural for people we can play a part in encouraging people to use it.’
Lawyers from Surrey legal firm Venters have been holding weekly free advice sessions at the surgery in Warlingham since 2007.
Headed by June Venters QC, they include specialists in family law and mediation. The lawyers give free advice to visitors to the evening sessions, held when the surgery would usually be closed.
Mrs Venters said being based at the surgery meant people could seek advice about sensitive subjects in a trusted location which was familiar to them, while health and legal professionals could share knowledge.
She said: ‘Very often the problems about which doctors, lawyers and mediators are all consulted are related, so referrals between the professions can only enhance the services provided.
‘A GP surgery has advantages for families who can benefit from mediation - it is familiar and accessible and for many people it provides a neutral venue they associate with trust, discretion and solving delicate issues.’
Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process which enables people to agree a way through their problems and make arrangements that everyone can live with. Currently people go to court repeatedly to argue over issues like extra contact time or varying contact days, when they could sort these issues out themselves. Taking them to court is emotionally and financially draining for both those involved and the government.