Mediation – Here we go again

The Today programme Monday 21 October 2013 and yet another discussion based on the premise that if you have a dispute about children and you don’t go to mediation you have to go to court.

It’s the old chestnut: mediation good (civilised, responsible, cheap, keeps you out of the clutches of the greedy lawyers); going to court bad (expensive, stressful, confrontational, the lawyers exploit you).  Those are the only two options you’re told about.  To opt for mediation is invariably presented as no-brainer.

Why does nobody ever say that most disputes are resolved as a result of arms-length correspondence between solicitors?

Actually of course by abolishing Legal Aid for private disputes over children (that is, disputes not involving the local authority, which are ‘public law’ cases) and rendering unavailable the option of resolving the dispute by correspondence between solicitors, the Government ensured that the number of court applications would rise, and that is what happened.

When it was put to Lord McNally, the Government’s representative, that a senior family law solicitor (Marilyn Stowe) has said that it wasn’t a good idea for a person to represent themselves in a family law court case, we got the response (I paraphrase): “Well she would say that wouldn’t she because she just wants to make as much money as possible out of the poor hapless public”.

When it was put to Lord McNally that the Government has abolished Legal Aid for family law cases, he responded that Legal Aid was still available to some extent.  This is correct – Legal Aid is still available for mediation and in cases of domestic violence.  He then said that the Government was still spending a huge amount (he mentioned the figure) every year on Legal Aid.  I’m happy to be corrected, but I strongly suspect that the figure he gave includes the cost of Legal Aid for criminal cases – which of course is irrelevant and can only have been intended to give the impression by sleight of hand that the Government has not taken the knife to family law Legal Aid to the extent that it has.