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Centralisation of divorce centres. The MoJ responds to us.
6 January 2015

From:
Naomi Hawdon
Civil and Family Directorate
HM Courts and Tribunals Service
1.42, 102 Petty France
London
SW1H 9AG

Email: Civil&FamilyBusinessSupport@hmcts.gsi. gov.uk

www.gov.uk

Mr Tony Roe
tony@tonyroesolicitors.com

Our Reference: 94587 19 December 2014

Freedom of Information Request

Dear Mr Roe

Thank you for your email of 21 November 2014, in which you asked for the following information from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ):

““Further Questions to Freedom of Information Request Your Ref: 93920 1.In our original Freedom of Information Request, dated 16 October 2014, we asked for information relating to 'the criteria that is being or will be applied when deciding which courts will remain able to process divorce petitions.' The response, dated 10 November 2014, gave a description of the structures and processes to be expected within the new divorce centres. However, no clear response was given on the exact criteria that has been used by the Ministry of Justice to determine why certain courts have been chosen over others to act as divorce centres. Please clarify the exact criteria that has been used by the Ministry of Justice to determine which courts in England and Wales will be divorce centres, and which will not. 2. Please also provide a full list of the approved divorce centres for England and Wales, as they have so far been decided. 3. Please clarify what is meant by 'sFC', referred to at 2 in your response to Question 1 of our original request. 4. Please explain the reason for the significant delay between implementation dates for changes to the court process of divorce petitions, described in your response to Question 3 of our original request. The response states that the changes are to be implemented in the North East and North West in November 2014. Please explain why a decision has not yet been made in relation to London, the South East and South West and why any implementation of changes is likely to be delayed until late 2015? 5. Please explain why the courts at Bury St Edmunds and Southampton have been proposed as points of entry for divorce petitions in the South East and South West, over and above all other courts in those areas. What characteristics do the courts at Bury St Edmunds and Southampton possess, which make them the most appropriate options for divorce centres in these areas?”

Your request under question 2 has been handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).

Question 2
I can confirm that the department holds information that you have asked for and I am pleased to provide this to you.

The agreed divorce centres for England and Wales are as follows:
• Midlands – Nottingham and Stoke
• North East – Doncaster, Durham and Bradford. These centres are operational and currently Harrogate is operating as a fourth centre before work is transferred to Bradford in January 2015.
• North West – Liverpool (phased implementation December 14 to February 15)
• Wales – Neath, Newport and Wrexham

Regions are responsible for communicating these changes to regional users and stakeholders prior to implementation of the divorce centre(s).

Questions 1, 3, 4 and 5 have not been handled under the FOIA as they do not fall under the Freedom of Information regime. It may be helpful if I explain that the Freedom of Information Act (2000) gives individuals and organisations the right of access to all types of recorded information held, at the time the request is received, by public authorities such as the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Section 84 of the Act states that in order for a request for information to be handled as a Freedom of Information (FOI) request it must be for recorded information. For example, a Freedom of Information request would be for a copy of a policy, rather than an explanation as to why we have that policy in place. On occasion, the Ministry of Justice receives requests that do not ask for recorded information, but ask more general questions about, for example, a policy, opinion or a decision.

However outside of the FOIA I am pleased to provide some information in relation to your other questions which I hope answers your queries.

Question 1
I’m sorry that you feel the response given to your original FOIA request regarding the criteria applied to determine which courts would be divorce centres did not clarify the exact criteria applied. I considered that the information provided gave the criteria as well as some context to explain that criteria. However I am pleased to confirm that the exact criteria are outlined at point 2 of the reply entitled “Choosing a Single Point of Entry – Divorce Centre”.

Question 2
I can confirm that “sFC” stands for single Family Court.

Question 4
Implementation dates differ because each region has decided the appropriate date based on factors such as such as availability of accommodation, movement of resources and consultation/communication with stakeholders.

Implementation of the South West divorce centre is planned for April 2015. This is because the region needed time to consider the potential accommodation options as well as the impact of other projects being undertaken in the region.

Bury St Edmunds has been identified as the likely venue for the London and South East Centre but consultation has not been completed. If the current proposal is accepted implementation will not commence until 2015 because the Bury St Edmunds building is being refurbished and is currently unoccupied. Building works are expected to be completed in March 2015.

Question 5
Southampton Combined Court is proposed as the divorce centre for the South West for the following reasons. The court has staff resources and office space available due to the movement of some other administrative work out of Southampton. Consequently the recruitment and set up costs for the new unit would be significantly reduced. The legal resource in Southampton is also sufficient in terms of Legal Advisers, which includes the pool available across Hampshire. In terms of judiciary, Southampton and the surrounding area has the highest proportion of District Judge allocation in the Region.

Bury St Edmunds was proposed as the divorce centre for the South East and London following a thorough review of the HMCTS estate, London and South East workload and resource availability. The Bury building was the most cost effective option, is a sufficient size and provides the greatest scope to improve the service delivered to court users.

You can also find more information by reading the full text of the Act (available at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/36/contents).

You have the right to appeal our decision in relation to question 2 only if you think it is incorrect. Details can be found in the ‘How to Appeal’ section attached at the end of this letter.

Disclosure Log

You can also view information that the Ministry of Justice has disclosed in response to previous Freedom of Information requests. Responses are anonymised and published on our on-line disclosure log which can be found on the MoJ website:
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ministry-of-justice/series/freedom-of-information-disclosure-log


Yours sincerely

 

Naomi Hawdon

 

 

 


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