In April 2013 the Government implemented substantial legal aid reforms. In addition to the financial eligibility criteria, they placed an additional restriction upon eligibility that it would mostly only be available for victims of domestic abuse or to prevent a child being placed at risk. For a more detailed breakdown of the changes you can see our article here.
Mediation however remained an area where only financial eligibility applies and there is no domestic violence criteria. Funding for those financially eligible is available for the mediation sessions themselves, as well as to consult a solicitor to take independent legal advice as to the terms of any settlement reached in mediation.
The Ministry of Justice have recently announced that the Government will be offering free mediation sessions to separating couples. Prior to these changes, only the legally aided party could receive funding for mediation, leaving the other party paying privately which undoubtedly meant that mediation in most cases did not go ahead resulting in court proceedings being issued.
The Government are offering a free single mediation session to both parties providing that at least one party has a legal aid certificate. In the latest stage of reforms to improve the family justice system the Government are implementing recommendations made by the Independent Mediation Task Force which will include the following:
An advisory group of experts is being set up to improve practice to ensure that mediation is focused on the best outcomes for any children involved;
Expanding on the ongoing campaign to increase awareness of mediation, legal help for mediation and the availability of legal aid for it;
Exploring options for reforming the management of the mediation sector; and
Reviewing future Legal Aid Agency contracts with mediation providers to improve service.
These changes will hopefully encourage more people, particularly disadvantaged people who can’t afford to pay privately, to access mediation if going through the separation process where children and financial arrangements are in dispute.
Mediation can offer couples a way of avoiding court proceedings to make arrangements around separation or divorce. The session will involve an impartial person, who will be an accredited mediator, who will manage the parties coming to an arrangement they both agree on. The parties are the ones who agree the arrangements, the role of the mediator is to facilitate the communication between the parties in coming to the agreement.
Legally aided mediation is only available at a limited number of firms. Whilst Creighton & Partners are able to offer privately funded mediation at £150 plus VAT per hour for the couple together, we are not able to offer legally aided mediation sessions. We are however able to offer legal aid to individuals who are financially eligible, to advise on the terms of any agreement reached in mediation. We can also provide details of local legal aid mediators.
For more information on mediation please look at our mediation page which you can find here. To find out whether you are entitled to legally aided mediation please contact Tony McGovern or Tom Brownrigg who are both trained mediators.