Make Family Mediation a Priority

Between April and July 2013, 22% more applications were made to the court than during that same period in 2012. This is an interesting statistic because April 2013 was the time when legal aid was removed for the vast majority of family cases.

Equally as interesting are the statistics which show that between April and July 2013 the number of referrals to legally aided family mediation fell dramatically. This is despite the fact that an extra 10 million was granted by the government to the legal aid budget for family mediation.

So why has there been such a poor take-up for legally aided mediation, despite there being little-to-no alternative for those people who cannot afford solicitors to assist them in resolving their dispute?

Some say that the government has not done enough to make the public aware of the changes and indeed to promote the opportunities available. The extent of the current marketing appears to be a 3 minute animated video on YouTube, which is little more than a glorified power point presentation.

It still surprises me the number of enquiries we receive from people enquiring about legal aid who are not aware of the changes and restrictions. I can understand it when people are unaware of family mediation and what it entails but I think that it is a real shame that hardly anybody knows that (for the majority of cases) legal aid is available for mediation where it would not be for legal advice.

The speed at which the changes were brought in and the wide-ranging cuts suggest to me that the government almost half-heartedly granted the funding to mediation rather than advice without giving much thought as to how it would be promoted. I can understand it if cuts were needed to save costs on the justice system but surely it is counterproductive if the alternative is not advertised sufficiently? Recent statistics would suggest that the drive towards mediation hasn't worked and the court system is under even more pressure than before.

Plans are in place to counter this; changes in the law are afoot which will mean that anybody wishing to make an application to court on a family matter must first attend an assessment meeting (where information is given about the process of mediation) before being able to apply to court. This is a change to the current rules which state that a potential applicant is expected to attend an assessment meeting.

The actual process of mediation will remain voluntary but it is hoped that the compulsory assessment meeting will convince more people to mediate rather than litigate. This will in turn no doubt increase the figures for legally aided mediation, as the assessment meeting will include an eligibility test for legal aid.

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