Mena Ruparel provides an overview of these recent Law Society events and shares updates from HMCTS
I was pleased to chair two events arranged by the Law Society Family Section on the centralisation of the divorce courts, which took place on 18 June in London and 1 July in Manchester. Both events were well attended, despite the fact that they took place in the midst of an uncharacteristic summer heatwave!
The first event in London had a panel of five speakers. Tony Roe, who has lead the FOI requests, spoke first to explain his information requests, followed by representatives from HMCTS, who explained the rationale behind the changes and spoke about the administrative set up at Bury St. Edmunds. We were all surprised to discover that the phone lines hadn’t even been installed at Bury due to the amount of work that needed to be done to the building to get it up to speed. (They should be installed and working by now!)
Judge Roberts explained how the system will work at Bury, from the receipt of the petition to the approval of a consent order. We also discovered for the first time the current timetable for moving London family courts over to the new centre at Bury.
Many of the attending delegates had very few experiences of using a divorce centre and it proved a fantastic opportunity for a lengthy and informative question and answer session. We were also for the first time that access to the Central Family Court will be restricted to complex cases. His Honour Judge O’Dwyer was in attendance to explain that a certificate of complexity will need to be filed by anyone seeking to issue a financial remedy application there.
The event at Manchester had a different flavour altogether, as the Liverpool centre went live December 2014. All the delegates had issued petitions and consent orders at the centre and were happy with the way it operated.
There were some issues about using the fee exemption application form, and we were informed by the HMCTS panel members that this was going to become much easier for applicants on benefits as there was going to be an online system to check benefits entitlement. This will reduce the burden on the court and applicants of processing endless reams of paperwork. Furthermore, the benefits check will only be carried out once, at the start of the case, once again saving time and cost.
The general system of payment for the divorce petition fee needs a bit of an overhaul and HMCTS are in the process of doing this. Although it is possible to send a cheque to the divorce centres for the issue fee, anyone without a chequebook will have no easy way to pay the fee. It would be easier for most individuals to pay by debit / credit card, this system isn’t easily in place. We should hear in due course that a straightforward card payment system will be implemented.
It is clear from these events that HMCTS are keen to engage with practitioners to ensure that the centres run as efficiently as possible. They are willing to listen to feedback and address any issues that arise, please do contact them if you have any suggestions to improve