February 6 Letters: Reforms put emphasis on mediation

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From: Simon Hughes MP, Minister for Justice and Civil Liberties

I WRITE in response to an opinion piece by family lawyer Lyn Ayrton (Counting the cost of cuts to legal aid, The Yorkshire Post, February 3).

Given the financial crisis this Government inherited, we had no choice but to make significant savings. When we began reform, we had one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world at £2bn a year and even after our reforms are complete the system will remain very generous at £1.5bn a year.

People who represent themselves are not new to courts. Around half of private family cases in the year before reform began involved at least one person representing themselves – and there is no robust evidence to support claims that family cases involving litigants in person take longer to progress through the courts than cases where people are represented 
by lawyers.

Clearly making sure people have access to justice is absolutely vital. I have therefore made changes to help people who come to court without a lawyer. For example, only a few months ago I announced a new £2m package of support for litigants in person to make sure separating couples and parents are able to access the right advice, information and support at the right time.

Recently published figures show that our reforms designed to encourage the use of mediation are having a real effect and more people are considering and making use of the excellent service available. We know mediation is often more successful, less stressful and less expensive than going to court in family cases. That’s why I made sure millions of pounds are available to pay for those eligible for mediation.

The Government is absolutely clear that legal aid must remain available where people most need legal help – for example victims of domestic violence should get legal aid wherever they need it to help break free from the abusive relationship.

That’s why we have made sure that legal aid remains available where someone’s life or liberty is at risk, they are at serious of losing their home or in cases where children might be taken into care.

The Archers’ death wish

From: James Robson, Kirkbymoorside.

I FEEL I must add to the furore about The Archers. As a member of the writing team back in the day, our producer was the wily and entertaining Bill Smethurst who now and then would caution us writers against awakening “the slumbering beast that is the APO”. He meant Archers Public Opinion which, when aroused by inappropriate story lines or depictions of much-loved characters could be a beast showering its rage throughout the media.

The current storm has been brought about by scriptwriter malaise and a collapse of production values; when the writers lose inspiration the production staff get desperate and accept mad, bad ideas in search of drama.

The programme seems to have a death wish at present: how on earth can The Archers survive without the Archer family at its centre? I’m afraid this venerable treasured “escape to the country” is suffering from the same ills as the real farming community in England: urbanisation, sexualisation, feminisation, Europeanisation, supermarketisation, etc.

Maybe it should be totally recast, removed to the Birmingham suburbs and set in a wine bar?

No aid for our pit workers

From: Les Ives, Cattal, York.

I SUSPECT I’m not alone when I read through clenched teeth the comments from the Government spokesman that funding will be provided to keep Kellingley pit open if it represents good value to the taxpayer.

Could I ask what value the taxpayer receives from the countless billions of pounds that we give out in foreign aid to countries who don’t need it?

What value do we get to see 700 skilled workers thrown onto the scrap heap and reduce our home produced energy resources even further?

The Government isn’t entirely to blame, all the political parties rush to sign the blank cheque that is foreign aid while ignoring the interests of people that they claim to represent in this country.

Undemocratic defections

From: Michael Shaw, Chapel Street, Scapegoat Hill, Huddersfield.

THE defection of Amjad Bashir (from Ukip to the Conservatives) means that in consecutive Parliaments this constituency has been represented by an MEP who has changed party after election.

This is undemocratic: in European elections, we can only vote for a party, not a candidate.

The proportion of votes cast last May showed that Yorkshire and the Humber was to be represented by three Ukip members – no one cast a vote because they wished Mr Bashir to represent them.

This turn of events highlights one of the weaknesses of the “closed list” system of proportional representation.

Please note, I write this as someone who voted for none of the parties involved in the two defections.