CENTRES FOR DIVORCE

HMCTS tells Resolution its plans for issue of divorce process

Resolution have recently published, under the heading ‘Centres for divorce – important information’ (https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/14b5e54224361566) a document which represents what is to happen concerning issue of divorce petitions in the new family court. There is no balancing information from the Ministry of Justice (so far as I know; but see reference to request for information from FPRC below). The document raises, perhaps, as many questions as it answers. It suggests that those involved had little opportunity to negotiate with HMCTS (contact was only made with HMCTS as a reactive measure).

Resolution reports – without comment – the ‘rationale’ of HMCTS for ‘centralisation’: we have a family court so let’s have as many documents as possible issued in one place. Economically that may well make sense (as does that ‘legal advisers’ – ie magistrates’ legal advisers – deal with the decree nisi certificates: FPR 2010 r 7.22); but is that a good step for a family court which, by definition, should surely keep its roots in a relatively small locality. And, in a spirit of joined up thinking, a note – from HMCTS or Resolution, or both – as to how this plan links in with any thoughts on divorce becoming ‘de-linked’ from financial proceedings would have been valuable. The recommendation appears, for example, in the Final Report of the Financial Remedies Working Group (http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/financial-remedies-working-group-report/) para 26, which would have been available to HMCTS by before Christmas (and to Resolution if they have a representative on the Working Group).

Divorce petition issue centres

The ‘centres’ scheme proposed by HMCTS and explained by Resolution are as follows: that

Decisions on number, location and timetable have been made within HMCTS at regional level, on the basis of local estate and resource considerations.  Some divorce centres are already fully or partly live.  The transfer of work is being phased (sic) to the centres, and the current plan is that each of the divorce centres will be fully operational as follows:

Region Centralised to Fully live with effect from
North East Durham, Bradford (and Harrogate)*, Doncaster November 2014
Wales Neath & Port Talbot, Newport (Gwent), Wrexham January 2015
North West Liverpool February 2015
Midlands Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent February 2015
South West Southampton April 2015
London and South East** Bury St Edmunds October 2015

* work from Harrogate is planned to transfer to Bradford in due course

** the plans for London and the South East remain in development

‘Urgent applications’ it is said, can still be issued at ‘local hearings centres’; and, we are told by HMCTS and Resolution, that:

The Family Procedure Rules Committee [(‘FPRC’)] will be considering changes to the D8 petition form and Form A financial remedy form so that your clients can indicate where they would prefer hearings to take place, and why, if one is required.   If there is any dispute over the venue for hearings, this will be dealt with in the usual way by a DJ at the divorce centre.

Request for information from FPRC

None of what is in the HMCTS information is yet in Family Procedure Rules 2010. Rules will require to be drawn up to reflect these changes, I trust. My questions of the FPRC, which I have raised with their officials are:

  1.  How is ‘urgent’ to be defined so that a petitioner will know whether or not his/her petition can be issued at the counter of an individual ‘local hearing venue’ (presumably a court office)?
  2. By what criteria will transfer to a local court venue be directed
  3. Do hearings have to be at a court office or building; or can they be at any suitable building most convenient to one or (if possible) both parties?
  4. Sharing work with other centres: what does this mean and by what criteria will when to share be decided?
  5. What arrangements are to be made to link up all files in relation to each family breakdown in one court office (or ‘centre’)?
  6. Where are decree nisi hearings to be listed and ‘heard’?
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