The government has announced that it is to review its proposals to cut legal aid after the responses it received in reply to its consultation paper. The Ministry of Justice reported that it had received over 5,000 responses to the legal aid consultation, which closed on 14 February 2011.
The government’s proposals introduced the plan to cut legal aid for most family law cases and replace it with compulsory mediation sessions. Many commentators and family lawyers criticised these plans, especially in relation to the use of mediation in cases involving domestic violence.
As a response to the heavy criticism, the legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly confirmed that the Ministry of Justice is revisiting the proposals, in particular the definition of ‘domestic violence’ and when legal aid would be available to a person in a domestic violence situation.
However, Djanogly reconfirmed the government’s intention to cut legal aid costs by introducing compulsory mediation for those in family law disputes. The logic behind the government’s plans to replace publicly funded court hearings with mediation is that it will be cheaper, therefore contributing to the public spending cuts the government is trying to achieve, and it will reduce the amount of time it takes for the family dispute to be resolved.
In addition, it is intended to reduce the workload of the family courts which are overworked and underfunded.
The government was due to respond to the consultation on legal aid cuts before Easter 2011; however, it will now publish its response after Easter.
Djanogly reiterated the importance of redressing the balance between claimants and defendants, saying that it had swung too far in favour of claimants.
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