Legal Aid for Family Mediation

Statistics obtained from the Legal Aid Agency have revealed that the number of new legal aid family mediation cases has dropped by 32%. Between the months of July and August, an even greater reduction of 43% was reported.

This follows statistics outlined in my recent blog regarding the fall in number of people compared with last year who are choosing to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with a mediator to find out more about the process. Together with the rise in private applications made to the family courts and increase in Litigants in Person (individuals choosing to represent themselves without the advice of a solicitor), this shows a surprising and worrying trend following the wide-ranging cuts to legal aid.

In my recent experience there is still a general lack of public knowledge surrounding the cuts to legal aid for family cases. The majority of people assume that legal aid is still available for a standard divorce and/or dispute about children. This is not the case and only in very limited circumstances will an individual be able to obtain legal aid for a family-related application.

Likewise, it follows then that people are also generally unaware that legal aid is still available for family mediation. Of more interest is that those people who are eligible for legal aid for mediation will then be able to also obtain legal aid to fund certain advice from a solicitor alongside the mediation, which they would not have received without mediation. I would have thought that this would result in an increase in the take up of mediation, especially in low-asset cases, but the recent statistics show that unfortunately the reverse is happening

Clearly the Government had intended that by making legal aid widely available for mediation, it would steer people away from an already over-worked court arena and reduce the number of applications being made. For whatever reason, this does not appear to have happened.

Mediation is not appropriate in every case. However, it seems clear that there is a need for more promotion from the Government and also the profession in order to increase the profile of this method of alternate dispute resolution.

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