On 8 October a report was published about the changes that the restriction of legal aid in family matters has brought to our family courts, and the effect that it is having on mediators. These changes have been highlighted in the national media, emphasising the problems that the courts face now with increased numbers of applications and all the while referrals of cases to mediation are on the decrease.
Since April 2013 legal aid for divorce, separation and child contact/residence issues has been withdrawn, except in cases where there is evidence of severe domestic abuse. Legal aid for family mediation does remain in place; however the government has not been very efficient at informing the public that this is so.
A lot of the recent changes have been focused on trying to alleviate the burden that the courts have with numerous family cases, that could be better dealt with in mediation. The withdrawal of legal aid has meant that many members of the public now feel that they are left with no option other than to apply to court, and are now representing themselves which causes major delays as procedure rules are not followed, or are misinterpreted.
It is anticipated that when the children and families bill is enacted it will become compulsory for those applying to court to first have a meeting with a qualified mediator.
Statistics compiled by the Ministry of Justice show that the number of people attending out of court mediation sessions to resolve family disputes (since cuts to legal aid were introduced) have decreased by 47%.
Many mediators believe that the withdrawal of legal aid for family cases has meant that there are no longer solicitors directing their clients towards accredited mediation and hence the reason for the decrease in referrals.
According to CAFCASS (Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) there has been a 27% increase since April 2013 in children cases going through the court system.
It is important to remember that in many cases mediation can be quicker, cheaper and produce better results for the whole family than stressful court battles do.
For further enquiries please call Louise Barretto on 0200 7091 2869.