25 SEP 2014

Legal aid work in family cases drops 27% compared to the same quarter last year

Legal aid work in family cases drops 27% compared to the same quarter last year
According to figures published by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), legal aid work in family cases has dropped 27% compared to the same quarter last year.

The category of family legal aid covers work on both private and public law and includes work associated with the Children Act, domestic abuse, financial provision and family mediation. Figures for each category are not available for legal help matters.

Figures in the MOJs first quarterly edition of legal aid statistics, which have previously been published only annually, show that the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in April 2013 resulted in large reductions in legal help workload and expenditure.

The report also reveals that the use of mediation has fallen since the implementation of LASPO in April 2013. Since the 22 April 2014 changes from the Children and Families Act came into effect, making it a requirement for separating couples to attend a meeting to find out about mediation before the dispute can be taken to court (MIAMs), there has been an increase in the number of mediation assessments in April to June 2014, compared to the previous quarter, but this has yet to filter through to starts and agreements.

Commenting on the statistics, Paula Tanner, Family Law PSL at Jordan Publishing said:

'These figures demonstrate the continuing problems in funding of family cases since LASPO. Although the report indicates that there has been a slight increase in uptake of MIAMS in April - June 2014 compared to the previous quarter, and it is to be hoped that this will continue to raise awareness of the benefits of mediation, there is still a long way to go in addressing the issue of funding family cases.'
Speaking of the moderate increase in family mediation assessments in the first quarter of 2014, National Family Mediation (NFM) Chief Executive Jane Robey said:

'As the new government report says, it is too early to accurately assess the long-term impact of the change to the law that makes it compulsory for separating couples to attend a mediation awareness meeting before they can apply for a court order.

Data covering NFM affiliated services and mediators for the first six months of 2014 gives us reason to feel cautiously optimistic. It shows that in a number of areas increases of 30 to 40 per cent in the number of people attending mediation compared with the same period in 2013 are common. Our 0300 4000 636 national helpline has been overwhelmed with enquiries in the same period.

NFM’s professional mediators and managers will continue working tirelessly to demonstrate the value of mediation, which is quicker, less stressful and usually cheaper than going to court.

The key to successfully increasing the numbers of people converting from awareness meeting to starting full mediation is often getting them into the room in the first place, with minds that are open to the possibilities mediation offers them to shape their family’s future in an affordable way.'
Figures also show that there were 270 applications for exceptional case funding between April 2014 and June 2014; this was a similar number of applications to the same period the previous year, but a reduction of 99 (27%) from the previous 3 month period.

This period saw a total of 125 Family applications with only 7 of these being granted. A further 95 were refused, 20 were rejected and 3 were withdrawn. 

The full report is available to download here.

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