Background: Legal Aid- where does the money go?

In the year 2012-13, the government spent £1.9billion on legal assistance. The government has stated that this contributes to the UK having one of the most expensive legal systems in the world.

When we think of justice, it may conjure images of burglars or murderers in the dock. However, the legal systems works to resolve a wide range of civil and legal disputes

According to Ministry of Justice figures, there were 2.2 million cases of legal aid assistance in 2012/13. Over 1,358,000 of those were criminal cases, costing roughly £1billion in legal aid. The other 925,000 cases were civil disputes which used around £900million in funding.

Number of cases receiving legal aid in the criminal and civil justice systems over the past five years.

Number of cases receiving legal aid in the criminal and civil justice systems over the past five years.

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Why Mediation Might Not Be the MoJ’s Silver Bullet

legal aid mediation

flickr: Mighty June

There’s a hole in the legal aid budget that’s grown to the size of around £540m since 2012.

Mediation has been touted by the Ministry of Justice as the big fix to plug this gap. They said in a statement released this February that: “Courts should be the last resort for people involved in civil or family disputes… Mediation can be a flexible, speedy and cost effective way to resolve disputes.”

Mediation involves resolving disputes out of court with the help of a trained referee, to chivvy the parties along to an amicable settlement. It is represented as a cheap and easy way to bypass the need for costly court proceedings.

However figures from the Legal Aid Agency show that whilst legal aid in Civil Representation has fallen by 15% between 2012 and 2013, just 3% of current applications for legal assistance are dealt with through mediation.

Figures obtained from the MoJ by a Freedom of Information request show that numbers of couples attending mediation information and assessment meeting declined by 47% in the year since cuts were introduced.

If mediation is the silver bullet in the MoJ’s arsenal, then, why does it make up such a small percentage of acts of assistance and, crucially, what happens to the shortfall?

David Mendes Da Costa, who runs West London Mediation, reports a “dramatic decline in mediation, perhaps as much a 50 per cent” in his practice since the LASPO cuts came into force.

He said: “It’s not an expensive thing. The problem is, people don’t have access to solicitors to advise them to go along to these meetings.

“The consequence is that people either represent themselves and go to court in person or they aren’t seen at all. “

He added that mediation can sometimes favour the richer party as the party who cannot afford legal advice is more vulnerable to being pressured into settlements they’re not comfortable with.

Advocacy charity Rights of Women said: “Mediation should never be used in situations where there is an imbalance of power. In many family cases it’s entirely inappropriate.”

See our chart to find out how much is being spent on legal aid including mediation in your region: