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Bury St Edmunds divorce centre an administrative hurdle for family justice

MoJ plans for divorce centres criticised as 'woefully inadequate' by family specialist

11 February 2015

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MoJ plans for divorce centres criticised as 'woefully inadequate' by family specialist

The creation of a centralised divorce centre for London and the South East in Suffolk has created yet another administrative hurdle for family justice, after stakeholders raised concerns over other already open regional centres.

The largest body of family lawyers, Resolution, recently met with HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) to discuss the new centres after its members raised concerns that, where centres were already open, information available locally had been "patchy".

Further, Resolution members in areas where centres are yet to open were said to be "anxious to understand" more about what was coming.

Bury St Edmunds has been confirmed as the venue for the divorce centre for London and South East. However, it is not expected to be fully operational until October at the earliest as plans remain in development.

Following the meeting, chair of Resolution Jo Edwards said it was now important that HMCTS continued to listen to our members, so that they understood how the new centres were operating on the ground, and how they can mitigate any negative impact.

Edwards continued: "We understand the logic behind the changes. But our concern is this latest development takes place against a background of a family justice system that has seen relentless change over the past couple of years. It is vital that the operation of the new divorce centres does not further restrict access to justice, which has already suffered so many devastating blows in recent years."

Responding to the news, Tony Roe of Tony Roe Solicitors has criticised the MoJ's implementation of the new centres. "In a previous FoI request response, the MoJ promised 'consultation/communication with stakeholders'. In the most recent response to our third [FoI] request there is nothing about consultation, and little about communication or guidance to the profession or public," said Roe.

"To say that 'posters will be displayed in local courthouses' is woefully inadequate," he added. "Especially with a growing number of litigants in person, people need accessible and clear information without having to turn up at a court which will not issue their petition. The MoJ promising that it 'will ensure adequate local communications plans are in place prior to implementation' ignores the fact that the new scheme is in operation in the Midlands and North West this month."

He continued: "The MoJ has told us that 'guidance on urgent applications will be made available to all courts in due course'. We are yet to hear what this guidance will be, particularly in view of the fact that in a number of courts, such as the Family Court at Reading, counters are only open by appointment only."

This article first appeared in PCA's sister publication, Solicitors Journal

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Family