LEGAL advice should be used in support of mediation in divorce proceedings rather than as a matter of course, the Lord Chancellor says.

Speaking at last week's annual general meeting of National Family Mediation, Lord Mackay said responses to last year's green paper on mediation and the grounds for divorce showed there was overwhelming agreement on the pressing need for divorce reform.

However, he said there seemed to be ignorance and confusion about mediation. “Some people have understood the consultation paper proposals to mean that I envisage replacing legal advice with mediation,” said Lord Mackay.

“That is not what I have in mind.”

He said it would be preferable for couples to negotiate face-to-face with the help of a neutral third party unless the problems were obviously unsuited to mediation.

“I have said on a number of occasions that I am concerned about the presumption that only lawyers can negotiate on behalf of the parties in a matrimonial dispute,” said Lord Mackay.

“Of course it may be the case that legal advice will be needed in support of the mediation process.

“But, we currently have a situation in which mediation is used as an adjunct to lawyer-led negotiations and often only when those negotiations have reached an impasse.

“What I would like to see is legal advice being used in support of mediated negotiations when it is necessary.”