A new family mediation project to stop matrimonial disputes going to court has been launched in Birmingham.
Legal aid minister Willy Bach officially opened the family mediation pilot, which is designed to offer an alternative to family court hearings and so reduce the time, cost and stress involved in resolving family disputes.
It is part of a wider Ministry of Justice programme to provide alternatives to litigation so courts are the last resort for people involved in civil disputes.
Lord Bach said: “The breakdown of a family is an extremely distressing time for all involved, particularly children, which is why I am determined courts should be the last resort. Sadly that is currently not the case, with only one in five legal aid clients experiencing a family dispute opting for the benefits that mediation can bring.
“Mediation is proven to provide a much quicker and less traumatic process than appearing in a family court for many, and so provides a more satisfactory conclusion for all involved. It can also deliver big savings to the tax-payer, with disputes resolved through mediation costing half as much as those in the courts. A significant saving at a time when we’re actively trying to sustain the best legal aid system in the world.
“The launch of today’s project in the West Midlands will provide a fresh alternative to the costly and time-consuming court litigation process and has great potential to alleviate much of the strain involved for families facing litigation right across the West Midlands.”
As part of the pilot programme, local family mediation providers in the West Midlands work with judges and Cafcass to identify cases where mediation might be a suitable alternative to the court process. Families are then offered the option of mediation over the court process for resolving their dispute. The uptake of mediation is voluntary.
Lord Bach was also in Birmingham to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the introduction of legal aid with a trip to Millennium Point to view the ‘Legal Aid is 60’ exhibition, which is travelling around the country.
The exhibition, which was launched at the House of Commons earlier this year, includes a timeline of legal aid through the ages, charting the history and achievements over the past 60 years.
It will be coming back to Birmingham in November when it will be on display at the College of Law.
“Anniversaries are a time to celebrate, but they are also a time to reflect on how things have changed over time,” said Lord Bach. “The Government remains committed to delivering this vital service and real help to support and assist some of the most vulnerable members of our society in way that is more cohesive and sustainable for the future.”
The ‘Legal Aid is 60’ campaign can be followed at www.legalaidis60.org.uk or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ legalaidis60.