As part of existing work to reform legal aid, the Government have already announced that, from April 2013, the majority of private family cases will be out of the scope for legal aid.
Court is often not the best way to resolve disputes about the arrangements for children following parental separation or divorce. Mediation can be quicker, cheaper and less acrimonious than court proceedings and legal aid will therefore remain available for mediation in private law family cases to those who are eligible. We estimate that legal aid spend on family mediation will increase by £10 million a year taking the total annual spend to £25 million.
Legal aid will also remain available for private family law cases where there is evidence of domestic violence and cases where a child is at risk of abuse. We will also continue to provide civil legal aid for the victims of domestic violence to apply for protective injunctions and will continue to waive the financial eligibility limits in these cases.
The Government recently indicated in its response to the Family Justice Review its intention to make a legislative statement emphasising the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child's best interests. We have established a working group of Ministers to develop proposals for legislative change, which will be brought forward for wide debate and consultation later this year. The impacts on legal aid will be considered as part of an overall impact assessment, informed by consultation responses.
This is a complex and difficult area that affects many parents and children and we are determined to make the right decision. We are mindful of the experience in Australia and the need to ensure that any welfare or safety issues are appropriately considered and that any change to legislation does not lead to an increase in litigation.