On 20th August 2014 the government announced that there would be a new provision for;
“…a single mediation session for both parties if one of them is already legally aided…”
This was explained as “the latest stage of sweeping reforms to improve the family justice system.”
A few weeks later and a rather different picture of those sweeping reforms hit the headlines.
The government’s desired increase in cases being resolved by mediation is not working out at all well.
Mediation had been loudly heralded by the government as being the answer to dwindling time and monetary resources in the court service. Legal aid, slashed elsewhere within the family justice system, had been preserved to some extent for mediation cases as an encouragement to steer families into the mediation process, but that is not bearing fruit.
There were only 1778 legally aided mediation cases between April and June 2014, down from 2706 for the same period in 2013. That is 35% fewer mediation cases. How has this happened? You can find the mediation and legal aid statistics here.
Firstly, although legal aid was preserved for mediation there is next to no legal aid for the solicitors who used to refer clients into the mediation process. The government is aware of this and, in fairness, is committed to raising awareness of where people can go to access mediation directly for themselves.
Secondly, although legal aid was preserved for mediation, the rules for who qualifies for legal were changed so that many people are no longer eligible.
Finally, legal aid would only pay for the partner who qualified for legal aid. The other partner would have to pay for themself. This has now changed and it is hoped that the recent proposal to pay for a single mediation session for both partners will see more couples take up mediation..
In the meantime, legal advice centres and law firms, unable to make ends meet on low and slow legal aid payments, continue to reduce in number. In many rural areas, towns and even major cities, there is a genuine shortage of avenues that people can pursue if they need help resolving issues upon divorce and separation.
Here at Family Law in Partnership, divorce solicitors in London, we are proud to say that we do still offer legal aid funded mediation. Many of our divorce lawyers and family consultants are experienced mediators and will be happy to help you and your partner to reach an agreement.
If you, or somebody you know is thinking about or going through divorce or separation then please do not hesitate to call us confidentially on 020 7420 5000 and ask to speak to one of our family mediators. Alternatively, you can email us with any questions at email@example.com.