As a lawyer mediator, I was naturally interested to hear about the “strike” recently carried out by criminal barristers this month. In protest at proposed cuts in legal aid, they withdrew their services for one afternoon in January – the first time barristers have ever taken such action.
In my own field of law, family, drastic changes to legal aid have already come into force, with no public funding available for many parties wishing to dispute contact, residence or financial settlements in divorce. This has resulted in an increase in litigants in person in the court, slowing up the system and highlighting the folly of saving money in one purse only to expend more from another.
Legal aid does remain available for mediation in family cases, subject to satisfying the criteria, and from this we may deduce that the Government intended that more people would follow that route. It is certainly true that mediation is well suited to deal with such cases. However, the availability of legal aid for family mediation has been so poorly publicised that people have been left in the dark, feeling that they have no access to assistance with their problems. Media focus is all on the apparent disarray in the justice system, with no mention of other options. We need to shout from the roof tops that help is available, and that mediation is a viable alternative to litigation.
Accredited Mediator, BA (Hons), LLM, Barrister