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Divorce centres: Further progress report

Date:5 OCT 2015
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We are approaching the anniversary of the very first divorce centres. Those in the North East opened in November 2014. Moreover, given that HMCTS intended that the phased transfer of work to each centre was to be complete by this October, how is the new regime working?

Family law solicitor and arbitrator, Tony Roe, who made a series of FoI requests of the MoJ, and whose research broke the news that Bury St Edmunds (BSE) would be the single divorce centre for the London & the South East, has been speaking to HMCTS again.

Roe said, 'I have been asking about the current position for London and the South East. The bullet-point update from the Court Service makes interesting reading. This is what they told me:
  • The work of all 45 London and South East courts has now transferred to the (Bury St Edmunds) Divorce Centre.
  • The Centre is receiving between 1,250 and 1,300 petitions for issue per week (some cannot be issued, see below). 
  • In September 18.5% of petitions were returned due to errors, common errors are: 
1. Names and or place of marriage differ from marriage certificate. 

2. Omission of reconciliation certificates, in represented cases. 
  • Taking everything into account we expect to issue upwards of 40,000 petitions per annum, on average the centre will issue broadly 800 petitions per week. 
  • Petitions are currently being processed in an average of 4 days (between 1 and 8 days of receipt), we are changing our work management system to provide a consistent service in October (i.e. petitions will generally be processed in order of date of receipt, with no filtering).
  • There have been delays in other areas; we did have a problem at the Acknowledgement of Service stage that has now been addressed... 
  • ...We have also identified an issue at the point of directions for trial that has also been addressed. 
  • Our revised goals are: all work processed within a maximum 5 days of receipt by the end of October 2015 and a maximum of 2 days of receipt by the end of December 2015. 
  • We are very close to introducing public daily work state reports to keep practitioners informed, the reposts will also include other information communicate process and issues arising.' 
Roe also said, 'I happen to know that the Court Service is keeping a watching brief on social media which has apparently informed them where they need to take corrective action. They regard the comments as generally mixed but say that they are helpful in providing an overview of practitioner experience'.

Roe added, 'It is extremely concerning that up to 240 petitions a week have to be rejected by BSE due to basic errors. I understand that these are not simply divorces filed by litigants in person. They also comprise basic errors made by practitioners. If firms were to adopt a basic double-check mechanism, ensuring that another fee earner looked over the divorce papers before they were filed, a lot of time and money could be saved, with less potential dissatisfaction for clients'.

Tony Roe is shortlisted for Family Law Commentator of the Year at the 2015 Family Law Awards.
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