The government has confirmed it is to centralise divorce applications for London and the south-east to Bury St Edmunds – a decision family practitioners have branded as ‘strange’.
Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, is one of 11 divorce centres that will be ‘points of entry’ for the issuing of divorce petitions and financial remedy applications. If a hearing is required, the application will leave the divorce centre and take place at a location suitable for the parties.
All family court venues that have district judges on site will continue to accept urgent applications and petitions.
Responding to a freedom of information request by family solicitor and arbitrator Tony Roe, of Tony Roe Solicitors, the Ministry of Justice said separate divorce centres for London and the south-east were considered, but a single centre covering both regions presented the most cost-effective option.
The response reveals that 11 locations were considered before an existing court building in Bury St Edmunds was chosen as the venue for the London and the south-east divorce centre. It is expected to go live in October.
Other centres will be located in:
- North-east: Durham, Bradford and Doncaster;
- Wales: Neath and Port Talbot, Newport (Gwent) and Wrexham;
- North-west: Liverpool;
- Midlands: Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent;
- South-west: Southampton.
The FoI response states a range of factors were considered when deciding on the numbers of centres required in each region, including availability of suitable estate and trained staff, historic workload, and availability of legal advisers and district judges.
Roe said it was a 'strange decision' to select Bury St Edmunds as the venue for London and the south-east. He criticised the MoJ for providing scant communication and guidance to the profession and public.
He added it was to the credit of family group Resolution (formerly known as the Solicitors Family Law Association) for recently meeting with and lobbying HM Courts & Tribunals for more information, which it sent to its 6,500 members.
Resolution chair Jo Edwards said the meeting was positive, but warned: ‘It’s important now that HMCTS continues to listen to our members, so they understand how the new centres are operating on the ground and how they can mitigate any negative impact.’
A spokesperson for HMCTS said that each region will organise its own communications with local practitioners and agencies. Guidance on centres being set up later in the year ‘will follow in due course’.
HMCTS’s online Courtfinder service is also being updated to help litigants in person identify where to send their divorce petitions, the spokesperson added.