Mediation and Legal Aid

The Government is making plans to invest an additional £10m during 2013 to encourage separating couples when divorcing to use mediation rather than resorting to the Courts to have issues resolved.

This investment will come at a time when due to Government cuts Legal Aid will no longer be available to even the poorest families in relation to “Family cases” – including cohabitation cases and same sex relationship cases – except, broadly speaking, in cases involving domestic violence or where a Local Authority has commenced care proceedings.

Lawyers – and indeed many other professionals – are concerned that the withdrawal of Legal Aid will be wholly counterproductive and is likely to have disastrous consequences, not only for the people affected but also for the Court system.  As a result of being unable to afford the cost of taking legal advice and benefiting from legal representation, not only with people involved in relationship breakdown be deprived of sound legal advice with regard to their rights and obligations, but many will endeavour to represent themselves in Court which in turn is likely to result in cases taking considerably longer to resolve and the Court system becoming clogged up.

However, the additional investment in mediation is to be welcomed.  Mediation is a way of resolving by agreement issues which arise following the breakdown of a relationship, and can be used, for example, to resolve arrangements for children, financial issues and also communication problems between the parties.  The function of the mediator (a fully trained and independent professional) is to work with the parties and assist them in reaching an agreement with regard to the issues between them.  Unlike the Court process where the Judge decides, in mediation it is the parties themselves who make the decisions, which are then set out in a mediation summary prepared by the mediator.

Experience has shown that mediation is a far cheaper, quicker and infinitely more pleasant way of resolving issues, compared to the Court process.  It should be noted, however, that mediation is still an entirely voluntary process and can only take place if both parties involved in the case agree to attempt it.