individual can beneficially use the service to deal with a dispute”.1010
Legal aid for family cases
9.76A number of Legal Aid Commissions (including those in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales) have developed mediation and conferencing schemes in which family law clients must participate as a condition of a grant of legal aid. In the Northern Territory, legal aid applicants must attend the Family Court Counselling service. The Legal Aid Commissions in the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, and Tasmania will not normally provide assistance unless there are genuine attempts to settle a dispute.1011 Where there is no in-house mediation conferencing scheme, cases are referred by Legal Aid Commissions to the mediators at the Family Court. The Legal Aid Commission of New South Wales indicated that 70% of the disputes referred to mediation conferencing in their pilot project were resolved.1012
Legal aid conferencing in Queensland
9.77The legal aid conferencing scheme in Queensland is a compulsory process for a family law legally aided client which provides an opportunity for disputants, with their solicitors present, to resolve a dispute.1013 A conference can be held when Family Court counselling has been exhausted, where there is a willingness to negotiate, and where it is cost effective. Conferencing is a combination of mediation, conciliation and arbitration. It is conciliation in the sense that the chairman manages the negotiation and makes recommendations. It is arbitration in that, in the absence of settlement, the chairman makes a recommendation regarding the right of each party to continue to receive legal aid funding and it is mediation in that the chairman is a neutral third party attempting to facilitate settlement of the dispute.
9.78In 1992/3, 849 conferences were held for family law disputes. Of these, 444 (or 65.4%) settled by way of a recommendation for legal aid to file consent orders, or a recommendation of “no aid” as the parties preferred no further legal action. From 1 July 1993 to 30 March 1994, there were 636 conferences, out of which 326 fully settled and 84 partly settled.
1010 “Family Court of Australia Mediation - Family Violence Policy and Guidelines” January 1993, at paragraph 2.25.
1011 Ibid at paragraph 11.39 and footnote 65.
1012 Annual report 1994 at page 3.
1013 This information was given by Donna Cooper, Conference Co-ordinator, during a visit to Brisbane in February 1995, and also in written notes prepared by Bernadette Rogers.