• FMA guidance on Legal Aid Changes

    31.01.13

    We have copied below a guidance leaflet issued by the Family Mediators Association regarding legal aid changes that will be coming into force in April 2013. 

    Whilst there is much in the press about the cuts to legal aid for family cases, they are not highlighting enough the fact that legal aid will continue for family mediation.  It is really important that client's and referrers are aware of this.  There will no doubt be further guidance to come and we will endeavour to keep our website updated.  In the meantime please spread the word that LEGAL AID FOR FAMILY MEDIATION IS CONTINUING!!!!!!!

    The FMA leaflet:

    Legal Aid changes

    For those who are financially eligible, the Legal Services Commission currently provides legal aid assistance to cover all aspects of family law, including divorce, children (such as contact and residence disputes), financial matters, care proceedings and disputes between unmarried couples.

    However after April 1st 2013, the LASPO Act will limit the availability of funding to those cases involving issues of child protection or where an individual is able to produce evidence of domestic abuse within the relationship.

    From April, those who are eligible for public funded legal services will only be able to receive legal aid for the following:

    • Legal advice in support of mediation(a new level of service ‘Help with Family Mediation’)
    • Public family law regarding protection of children (care proceedings)
    • Private family law with evidence of child abuse
    • Child abduction
    • Representation of children in private family cases
    • Domestic violence injunction cases
    • Forced marriage protection orders

    The government itself estimates that on average there will be a 75% reduction in the volume of family ‘Legal Help’ work funded through legal aid. There is likely to be an increase in the number of enquiries about legal advice in support of mediation, which on the one hand may be good news, but on the other will presumably involve a number of cases which are not mediable for one reason or another, but which are also not eligible for legal aid. There is a risk that mediators will find themselves dealing with numbers of desperate would be clients who will find it very difficult to understand why mediation is not right for the individual case. Other potential problems include how to ensure that families are able to find an accredited mediator without legal aid solicitors to help them, and the impact of the new willingness test on the fee structure for mediation.

    On the plus side, recognising that there is likely to be an enormous demand for legal aid for mediation as a result of these changes, the Family Justice Minister, Lord McNally, has announced that the government is making an additional £10 million this year available, taking the total to be spent to £25 million.

    Some of us may also be interested in the government’s view of the benefits of mediation over litigation. In its press release the Ministry of Justice is suggesting that the mediation route takes about a quarter of the time of going through the divorce courts, and could be eight times cheaper. This is based on figures for legal aid cases, which show that the average cost of using mediation is about £500, compared with £4,000 for issues settled through the courts, while the average time for a mediated case is 110 days and 435 days for non-mediated cases.

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