Legal aid cuts cause chaos

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Mediation Plus, the community mediation service covering Eastbourne and Wealden, says it has seen an increase in referrals to their family mediation service following cuts to legal aid funding to a wide variety of civil legal actions that came into effect in April.

Although pleased that mediation is becoming more widely recognised as an effective way to resolve conflict, the Hailsham based service – which offers mediation for neighbour, family, intergenerational and workplace disputes – is concerned that government agencies are seeing mediation as a cheap alternative to legal action and have not informed the public how the process really works.

Mediation Plus Service manager Clive Gross said, “Mediation is about helping people to find their own solutions and is a voluntary process, while going to court is adversarial with an imposed solution at the end. Our service is not about taking sides or deciding who may be right or wrong. From the enquiries we are receiving, many people clearly do not understand this. They are looking for something to be enforced and are often not in the right state of mind to enter into mediation.”

To help people better understand how family mediation works, the service has trained a group of its existing volunteer mediators to be able to talk people through the process and allow them to assess whether mediation is right for them. Supported with funding from the Affinity Sutton Community Fund, eight volunteers and are available to have an initial informal and confidential discussion with anyone wanting to explore the idea.

Clive said, “Helping people to really understand the power of mediation in different circumstances is a very important part of what we do, so we hope that giving our volunteers this extra knowledge will help more local people understand and access our service. While family mediation is not free, as a charitable organisation we are able to keep costs much lower that for-profit mediation organisations, and helps to support our community mediation work across Eastbourne and Wealden.”