The reforms to legal aid implemented in April 2013 are already taking their toll on the courts and families across the country. Recent reports in the national media have highlighted the problems, as the courts face increased numbers of applications, whilst referrals to mediation plummet. A piece on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, aired this morning, illustrates the chaos being caused by the changes to legal aid.
Since April 2013, legal aid provided by lawyers for divorce, separation and child contact issues has been withdrawn except in cases where there is evidence of severe domestic abuse. However, the government has failed to inform the public that legal aid for Family Mediation remains in place and is accessible through National Family Mediation and its member mediation services. To find your nearest member service visit www.nfm.org.uk
“The government had intended that greater numbers of people would try mediation before making an application to court but the failure to publicise services has had the opposite effect and people are heading straight to court because they do not know what else to do,” says Jane Robey, Chief Executive Officer of National Family Mediation.
“What the government didn’t see was that lawyers acted as gatekeepers for both mediation and the courts. Now the public is left with few options other than to apply to court, and now more frequently as a litigant in person”.
Marion Stevenson, NFM Family Mediation Trainer, Mediator and Professional Practice Consultant states that furthermore, “the drastic changes to the new legal aid eligibility rules for mediation have redefined and therefore reduced significantly who will get through the hoop, fundamentally reducing the take up of legal aid. This means that fewer people are eligible for legal aid, which will which will seriously affect those who are unable to pay and are left vulnerable”.
Next year when the Children and Families Bill is enacted it is anticipated that it will be compulsory for anyone wishing to apply to court to have had a meeting with a qualified mediator – but implementing the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) legislation one year before the Children and Families Bill has shown a glaring lack of joined up thinking and has put many providers at risk. By next April it is unlikely that there will be a healthy network of National Family Mediation member services available to support the Children and Families Bill implementation and it is more likely that families will experience the postcode lottery of services with gaps and hot spots appearing across the country.
Relationship breakdown is stressful enough, but by not providing the right information to the public at the right time, this only adds to problem. For any person requiring support and assistance with their divorce, separation or child contact issue, we would encourage them to ring National Family Mediation to get the right information and save themselves a lot of confusion and turmoil in the process.
National Family Mediation has an 85% success rate for all those entering mediation. Our service can provide support to all members of the family, including children who feel stuck in the middle. Mediation provides longer lasting agreements than those made in the courts and is excellent value for money (National Audit Office report, March 2007).
For more information call Jane Robey on 0300 4000 636 or email: [email protected]