It has been just over 8 months since the majority of the administration of divorce suits was passed from the Central Family Court and other courts in London and the South East to the Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre as part of the centralisation of divorce administration in England and Wales to 11 regional Divorce Centres.
From 20 July all new petitions have had to be sent to Bury St Edmunds for issue. Other steps in the suit which do not require a court hearing also take place at the Divorce Centre. Exceptions apply for petitions where there is a requirement for urgent issue. Applications for financial claims on divorce are also administered at Bury St Edmunds.
I have previously written extensively regarding the changes - see my note here.
So, how is the Divorce Centre at Bury St. Edmunds doing?
There were some teething problems as one would anticipate with the movement to one centre of 40,000 divorce suits previously dispersed over 47 courts. The early problems were delays with issuing petitions, significant delays to decrees nisi and correspondence generally. In the autumn of 2015, the processing time for petitions was more than two weeks and for correspondence generally approximately one month. At one point there was a 2-month delay for decree nisi applications.
But the latest figures show that, as of today (7 March 2016), petitions are issued within 7 days of being received, correspondence actioned within 11 days and decree nisi applications are being processed just over a week after receipt.
A remarkable turnover and turnaround!
It is still recommended that when petitions need to be issued as a matter of urgency (for jurisdiction races and s 37 purposes) the practitioner (or their outdoor clerk!) should take a trip in person to the local court for urgent issue.
But this is a commendable processing time. Is there a faster administrative Family Court? We would be interested to hear from international practitioners about their local experience and how England compares. Send me an email or tweet @iFLGUK.
It is, unfortunately, not all good news for the Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre. Like many public services there continues to be problems for practitioners who want to contact the Centre and/or to obtain an urgent response or action. An email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been provided, but response times are varied. I attended a recent meeting of the Court User Group for the Central Family Court, chaired by HHJ Tolson QC and DJ Robinson, at which attendees were informed that Bury St Edmunds would be setting up a dedicated hotline for enquiries and urgent work, estimated for April 2016.
It is communications with the court which, from a practitioners' perspective, is the next stage in developing the Centre now that processing times are under control, fast and very good. We all know the frustration of not knowing what is happening with a petition, some correspondence or an application. If this can be resolved it will be a further positive step in establishing this dedicated Divorce Centre for the greater good of litigants (and practitioners!).
In the meantime, much praise for the staff at Bury St Edmunds, who have set a very fast target for other family courts to aim for. This article was originally published on the International Family Law Group LLP website and has been reproduced here with kind permission.