Legal Aid in Child Law Arbitration- Nearly There!

Just in time for the tenth birthday of FLAGS (the Family Arbitration Group Scotland) next month, earlier this week we saw a huge development in arbitration in child law matters. The law that says that a scheme to provide legal aid must be made available for arbitration in child law cases quietly came into force on Sunday (17th January 2021).

When the Act was going through the Scottish Parliament we flagged (excuse the pun) that there was some uncertainty about whether legal aid would be made available for arbitration in child law matters (things like disputes about residence, contact and specific issue orders). After this piece, the Scottish Government confirmed that arbitration was going to be included in the forms of dispute resolution to which the new legal aid regime would apply, so it’s a case of 'when', not 'if'.

The Act gives the Scottish Minsters some options about how to make legal aid available at a practical level, and now that the relevant section of the Act has been brought into force, we will presumably get sight of the detailed plans soon. I understand anyway that a paper is to come from the Scottish Government soon setting out how they intend to implement the pilot scheme that is being set up to provide for mandatory alternative dispute resolution meetings. There will be the opportunity for interested parties to give feedback on the plans, before details of the scheme are finalised. 

Meanwhile, the majority of the Act is not yet in force. Although the Act received the Royal Assent on 1st October 2020, most of it may not be implemented for a while yet, because it’s going to require some fairly fundamental structural changes to the way that disputes about children are going to be dealt with. The next big date is 26th July 2021 when some of the provisions about looked after children, and children involved in the Children’s Hearing system come into force. We did a series of pieces last year on some of the detail of what was then a Bill, which you can find under the 'Children (Scotland) Bill' tag. We’ll keep you posted.