Get in touch: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting YORK to 80360 or send an email»
Legal aid pledge to low-paid
PEOPLE on low incomes will still be able to get legal aid to help them through divorce after March 31, according to the York Family Mediation Service.
From April 1, many wives and husbands will no longer get legal aid to pay their solicitors’ bills under spending cuts that have been attacked by the country’s top judge.
Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, has predicted that court costs and court delays will go up because more people will have to represent themselves in court and will need more support from court staff than trained lawyers do.
Catharine Morris, service manager of the service, said that people who will no longer qualify for legal aid if they go straight to a solicitor will qualify for legal aid for mediation services. She hopes the changes will lead to more people avoiding bitter courtroom confrontations where judges and magistrates make the final decisions.
“People on low incomes and benefits will be able to get legal aid for mediation,” she said. “I hope these changes – I know why they are happening, to save money – but I hope there will be less people going to court and more people trying to sort it out themselves.”
In mediation, couples sit down with a neutral mediator to come to an agreement on how they will sort out their affairs and make arrangements for their children. The agreement they make can then be presented to a court as part of the divorce proceedings.
“It is taking the writing of nasty letters out of the equation and telling clients to sit down and make their own decisions,” she said.
Just under half of her service’s clients are currently on legal aid and she expects a similar situation after April 1.
The legal aid also covers access to solicitors for legal work necessary in divorces, such as property transfers and sales and getting a divorce certificate. The not-for-profit service is hoping to set up a package deal with a group of solicitors with fixed fee arrangements.