With the 1st of April rapidly approaching, most legal aid is about to end. Lord Neuberger commented to the BBC,
“I think we need to be careful not always to run to the lawyer when we think we’ve got a problem.”
Lawyers come with expensive legal fees until now paid for by legal aid, but soon to become the problem of the respondents. A cheaper alternative to solicitors is the Family Mediation Service, where the fees are a fraction of the cost which the parties share equally.
Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court and the UK’s senior judge has a vast amount of experience in these matters. His comments follow the sweeping changes to end legal aid in the majority of cases of divorce, separation and family dispute.
The National Family Mediation Service offers an affordable alternative to either paying large solicitor’s bills or trying to fight the case themself. Family mediation has been in existence since April 2011 and has successfully worked with the courts and solicitors, to resolve disputed cases of divorce and separation.
The Government has made these moves try and save £350m a year on legal costs, and the top judge continues,
“This will mean that court hearings will last longer, the burden on court staff and judges will increase,”
If Lord Neuberger can envisage the potential chaos these cuts could make, it is easy to see how legal costs can escalate, leaving vulnerable people facing massive debts in order to get justice.
The National Family Mediation Service work’s with both parties, either individually or together to resolve all disputes their divorce or separation may bring. After an assessment, they draw up an estimate of costs and both parties usually pay half each. This service is usually a fraction of the costs of litigation and decision are made by the parties to the mediation and not by the Courts. Mediation is not only cheaper but quicker and less stressful than litigation, allowing the parties to move on with their lives sooner than they would if they were involved in long drawn out and often protracted legal proceedings.
The public feel comfortable knowing they can seek justice with legal aid, which help’s put them on a level playing field with those who can afford large legal fees. Taking this resource away from them will mean, as Lord Neuberger said,
“…or it will lead to people taking the law into their own hands.”
Whether this means they will resort to illegal actions or clog up the courts as they try to resolve disputes for free, will only be known as the situation develops. The whole position has the potential of returning to the fear and distrust that was rife in the justice system prior to legal aid’s introduction.