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Divorce Centres. The MoJ releases more information after our third FoI request
9 February 2015

Emma Petty
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 26 January 2015

Dear Mr Roe

Thank you for your email of 9th January 2015, which was referred to the Civil and Family Directorate on 13th January 2015. You have requested the following information from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ):

“Questions arising from Freedom of Information Response 19.12.14 Your ref: 94587

1. The response reports that there will be four divorce centres in the North East, one centre in the North West and two centres in the Midlands. There will be one centre in the South West and only one centre covering London and the South East. Why is it that the North East, in particular, requires three more divorce centres than the whole of London and South East, London of course being the "divorce capital of the world"?

2. The response states that ‘regions are responsible for communicating changes to regional users…prior to the implementation of divorce centres.’ a) Who exactly does the term ‘regions’ refer to? b) How much notice of these changes will ‘regions’ be required to give, if any? c) How will details of these changes be effectively communicated? d) Will the information be made available widespread to the general public, as well as the legal profession, given the significant number of litigants in person, who presumably classify as ‘regional users’, now entering the family courts? If so, how?

3.Why is it that London is not to have a divorce centre of its own?

4.The response reports that consultation in relation to Bury St Edmunds has not been completed. What is/are the alternative location(s) being considered, if any, as divorce centre for the London and South East area?

5.Why the eagerness to select Bury St Edmunds, which is unoccupied and requires extensive refurbishment lasting until March 2015, as the divorce centre for the London and South East area, over and above another location which does not requires extensive works and already has resources in place? How is this cost effective? To what extent do the costs associated with these works outweigh those that might be caused from the delay in implementing a divorce centre for such a large area of England? 6. In what ways does will Bury St Edmunds be able to provide ‘the greatest scope to improve services delivered to court users’?

7. At present, those involved in international ‘forum races’ relating to Article 19 European Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 (Brussels II bis), issue their divorce petitions at court in person, in order to secure England and Wales as the jurisdiction of their choice for divorce proceedings. What procedural position will be in place to ensure that petitions can still be issued in this way?”

On this occasion, the nature of your enquiries do not fall within the framework that the Freedom of Information Act provides, and as such have been deemed a business as usual request for information. I therefore set out my response to your questions below:

Question 1 - The response reports that there will be four divorce centres in the North East, one centre in the North West and two centres in the Midlands. There will be one centre in the South West and only one centre covering London and the South East. Why is it that the North East, in particular, requires three more divorce centres than the whole of London and South East, London of course being the "divorce capital of the world"?

A divorce centre is a single point of entry for a particular geographical area. When deciding on the numbers of centres required within each region a range of factors are considered which include availability of suitable estate and trained staff, historic workload, legal adviser availability and District Judge availability. Each HMCTS region also has to work within the limitations of its existing estate, which can put limits on what can and cannot be accommodated. After reviewing the estate the North East took the decision to have divorce centres located at Doncaster, Durham, Bradford and Harrogate.

Question 2 - The response states that ‘regions are responsible for communicating changes to regional users…prior to the implementation of divorce centres.’ a) Who exactly does the term ‘regions’ refer to? b) How much notice of these changes will ‘regions’ be required to give, if any? c) How will details of these changes be effectively communicated? d) Will the information be made available widespread to the general public, as well as the legal profession, given the significant number of litigants in person, who presumably classify as ‘regional users’, now entering the family courts? If so, how?

Each region has a project lead that is responsible for communications. They will ensure adequate local communications plans are in place prior to implementation. Communications are being delivered via a number of different channels. For example posters will be displayed in local courthouses and letters will be sent to regular court users. Our research shows that our customer’s prefer to access court information through court finder, so this is being updated to ensure petitioner’s can identify the correct point of entry for their petition.

Question 3-Why is it that London is not to have a divorce centre of its own?

The regional Divorce Centres will be the point of entry for the majority (see response to 7 below) of divorce proceedings and financial remedy matters. Centres will transfer any defended cases to the parties’ preferred venue following directions. There are currently 45 locations that handle divorce hearings in London and the South East, 13 of which are in London. Parties will have the option of conducting their cases in any of these venues, or outside of London and the South East, should that be their preference. Separate Divorce Centres for London and the South East were considered, however, a single centre covering both Regions presents the most cost effective option and the economy of scale provided will enable us to significantly improve on the throughput of divorce process and customer service whilst still allowing parties to choice the venue for hearing.

We anticipate that parties will opt for their cases, if defended, to be heard in London courts and it is our intention to accommodate their preference.

Question 4-The response reports that consultation in relation to Bury St Edmunds has not been completed. What is/are the alternative location(s) being considered, if any, as divorce centre for the London and South East area?

We are now able to confirm that Bury St Edmunds will be the venue for the London and South East Divorce Centre. A total of 11 locations were considered, overall Bury St Edmunds was the best option as the building (an existing court building) was of a sufficient size and also the most cost effective option.

Question 5 -Why the eagerness to select Bury St Edmunds, which is unoccupied and requires extensive refurbishment lasting until March 2015, as the divorce centre for the London and South East area, over and above another location which does not requires extensive works and already has resources in place? How is this cost effective? To what extent do the costs associated with these works outweigh those that might be caused from the delay in implementing a divorce centre for such a large area of England?

As stated in the previous response to you dated 19 December 2014 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. As stated above Bury St Edmunds is now the confirmed venue for the Centre, it presented the best overall option notwithstanding the need for some relatively minor works. Works were underway at the location, in any event.

Question 6 - In what ways does will Bury St Edmunds be able to provide ‘the greatest scope to improve services delivered to court users’?

Overall, the Divorce Centre network in England and Wales will enable staff and judiciary to focus their time on defended matters, the removal of undefended work frees up capacity in the existing divorce venues which will remain. Referring to Bury St Edmunds, specifically, the economy of scale the venue provides will able us to improve customer service by streamlining internal processes and processing work more quickly, delivering consistency. None of the other venue options provided this scope for improvement.

Question 7 - At present, those involved in international ‘forum races’ relating to Article 19 European Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 (Brussels II bis), issue their divorce petitions at court in person, in order to secure England and Wales as the jurisdiction of their choice for divorce proceedings. What procedural position will be in place to ensure that petitions can still be issued in this way?”

HMCTS will ensure arrangements are in place for any urgent applications to receive immediate and appropriate attention, if it is not possible for an applicant to make an application at their designated divorce centre. Guidance on urgent applications will be made available to all courts in due course.

Yours sincerely


Emma Petty
Civil and Family Directorate
 


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