The frenzy of legal aid
concern from various places in recent weeks – reports and submissions of which
the Children’s Commissioner’s was just one – might cause some to think some
form of repeal or softening is in sight. But it’s just not realistic to expect
‘restoration magic wands’ to be waved now, or next year, or the year after that
…or even the year after that.
The deficit means that for
either of the political parties that can actually win the next election, not
only is there no political
reverse LASPO cuts – there’s not even an
to do so. The logical extension must be the hastening of public money-saving
measures, not the untying of purse-strings. Take for example, comments made at
fringe meeting at Labour’s conference where Shadow
Justice spokesperson Andy Slaughter conceded his party has no plans to revert
to pre-LASPO levels of eligibility. ‘We’re not going to get in a Tardis and go
back to before,’ he said.
So it seems the patterns
hinted at by last week’s legal aid data are set to continue. Those figures
didn’t give cause for optimism for supporters of access to justice, or for
family mediators. For example, an increase in mediation after the
implementation of April’s Children and Families Act was noted, but it really
was only a modest rise.
Yet interestingly, data from
NFM’s affiliated services in various parts of
gives greater grounds for hope. It shows in a number of areas increases of 30 to
40 per cent in people attending mediation compared with the same period in 2013
We’ve clearly said that,
despite these signals, it’s too early to properly assess the impact that
compulsory MIAMs is having on take-up since it takes time for conversion to
mediation starts and then on to agreements: a point reflected by the MOJ/LAA
data report as well. But our statistics suggest the signs for professional mediation are – and, please, just whisper it
next legislative step to come is the public funding of the first mediation
session, for those where even only one party is legally aided. We still await
the Parliamentary process that kicks off this initiative. When the Minister
announced it, he said it would begin in the autumn, so the starting pistol
should be fired any time soon.
hopeful this will help too, because getting people into the mediation room with open minds can be
amongst the biggest challenges a mediator faces. Confidence in a
previously-unknown process usually blossoms thereafter as people begin to
understand, and then believe in, the potential of family mediation to help them
shape their family’s future in an affordable way.
Back at the party conferences it was perhaps encouraging to
learn that Labour would, if elected next May, seek to promote and improve
But hang on. Isn’t that exactly what the current Conservative-led
government has been pledging for years as part of its pro-family mediation
plans? Simon Hughes again referred to Government ‘promotional work’ around
mediation in a speech last week. Yet there’s been precious little
improvement of the context within which professional mediators operate, and
almost no central Government promotion of mediation and its benefits.
In his speech the Minister even proclaimed a regional BBC
interview he’d taken part in, yet omitted to say that this feature’s genesis
was not the MOJ, but an NFM approach backed up by the affiliated Essex Mediation Service.
Government says its strategy is to lead people to choose
family mediation above family courts, but then seems not to back this up with
the tactics that would help achieve its goal. And there’s a crying need for
this promotion. Lessons need to be learned, and acted upon.
For some months now NFM’s 0300 4000 636 telephone helpline
has been acting as more than simply a ‘book a mediator’ facility. With over
1,400 calls being received each month we know from experience that people
facing separation or divorce don’t know which way to turn, so our phone, email
and website advice provides a vital lifeline to these people.
Government, whatever colour
it might take come May 2015, must urgently recognise that a world with
severely-restricted legal aid (the one we’re stuck in, and stuck with) requires other forms of support:
good quality information, signposting and advice that’s easy to obtain.
legal aid was costly, but unless other cheaper-to-provide forms of assistance
are available to those struggling to navigate the post-LASPO minefield, the
social costs that result from the unsupported breakdown of these families in a
decade or two will be incalculable.