MoJ policy severs link between mediation & legal advice

Between April and October 2013, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) paid out less than £7,000 to family lawyers across the UK for providing legal advice in support of publicly funded family mediation. This is on a par with what a high street family lawyer would charge a private client to negotiate an out of court settlement.

The figure – derived from our latest freedom of information (FoI) request – is based on the shocking fact that just 20 people attending family mediation in the same period accessed “help with mediation” – the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) term for legal advice in support of mediation.

The LAA pays legal aid family lawyers £150 to provide advice in parallel to mediation and a further £200 to compile a consent order. It means the MoJ’s bill for “help with mediation” for the first seven months of LASPO was somewhere between £3,000 and £7,000.

Over the same period, 5399 publicly-funded mediations got underway attended by 10,798 people. LAA data from previous years tells us around 60% of attendees would be eligible for legal aid. This means just 20 from almost 6500 people attending mediation accessed legal advice available to them under LAA provision.

Number of claims made by lawyers for “help with mediation” between April and Ocotber 2013:

Birmingham 0 (zero)
Brighton 0 (zero)                     
Bristol 4
Cambridge 3
Cardiff 1
Leeds 8
Liverpool 0 (zero)
London 0 (zero)                       
Manchester 0 (zero)
Newcastle 2
Nottingham 1
Reading 1

It would appear the MoJ is none too keen on mentioning the availability of  “free legal advice”. It gets a passing mention in a new MoJ leaflet about mediation but does not feature in any of the department’s key messaging.

The MoJ will no doubt say that separating partners don’t need lawyer input if they’re mediating over child arrangements. Aside from ignoring the integral role of lawyers in getting clients to mediation in the first place, this doesn’t hold at all. A lawyer supporting the mediation process is far better positioned than an impartial mediator to challenge their client’s mistaken/self-serving view of what the law says about contact.

Moreover, a great many of these 5399 mediations will involve contested issues relating to finances. For example, does the MoJ regard it as acceptable for thousands of people at mediation to not take legal advice when exploring options for pension sharing?

And on a professional point, it’s widely acknowledged that mediation works best when lawyers are on hand to help ensure their clients are making informed decisions at mediation leading to agreement.

The latest FoI data would suggest a very different picture of publicly funded mediation has emerged since the introduction of LASPO.

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